Andrew Alderson 's Opinion

Andrew Alderson is a sport writer for the Herald on Sunday.

Andrew Alderson: Putting a new spin on planning

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Fans might still be grappling with the news New Zealand has won two consecutive Twenty20 internationals against India and Bangladesh but it's reassuring to know, at least in the case of Bangladesh, there was no element of luck involved.

The win at Pallekele yesterday morning came from meticulous planning. However, a better gauge of the side's progress under the new Mike Hesson coaching regime will be how they strategise to defeat the mercurial Pakistan.

Victory tonight would make it three wins in a row against Asian teams on the subcontinent. The prospect of that, given the team's recent poor form in series against South Africa, the West Indies and India, might require a sit down with a cup of tea. At least Sri Lanka is the home of a decent brew.

Three areas of the game seemed to be the focus for the Bangladesh match: adapting to left-arm orthodox spin bowling, rotating the strike and being prepared to adapt the batting order to the conditions. There was no practise yesterday but at the scheduled scouting session the team should have simply agreed to repeat the dose against Pakistan. There were a couple of dropped catches against Bangladesh - the culprits being Daniel Vettori and Brendon McCullum - but it would be churlish to gripe about those in what was otherwise an emphatic statement of intent.

McCullum says Hesson has brought a key eye for detail since being installed as coach ahead of the Indian tour.

"Mike's good at identifying where oppositions are strong and weak, where you can attack and where you need to shore up your defence. For instance, against Pakistan, it might be a case of trying to take on their strengths to open up opportunities. Obviously (off-spinner) Saeed Ajmal is a key for them. His ability to be economical and take wickets is a big part of their success lately (as the world's No1 ranked T20 bowler, Ajmal has taken two or more wickets in his last eight limited overs matches of any description).

"Shahid Afridi also brings an X-factor [with his leg spin] and Umar Gul reverse swings the ball well."

Spin, particularly from left-armers, has troubled New Zealand recently so the team took a proactive stance, stacking the practice nets with that bowling species on Thursday. While there will be no further team batting practice before the Pakistan match, using a similar strategy bodes well this week, presuming New Zealand makes the Super Eight. If that's the case, the next opponent will be Sri Lanka - think tweakers Ajantha Mendis and Rangana Herath. Spin should remain an area of application for this tournament and beyond.

Regular rotation of the strike, especially in the 94-run right-hand/left-hand partnership between McCullum and James Franklin, helped annul any Bangladesh spinning venom but also put pressure on the field. Most of the New Zealanders are sprightly between the wickets, so why not keep using it as a tactic? The Bangladesh ground fielding was sloppy and Pakistan's is worth testing early.

By comparison, New Zealand scored runs off 81 of the 120 balls (68 per cent) bowled at them on Friday whereas Bangladesh scored off 62 (52 per cent). Those statistics are skewed by The McCullum Show with his T20 international record of 123, but the intention to try to score off each ball was obvious. Less of the six-or-dot-ball mentality is welcome. McCullum had just 10 dot balls in his 58-ball innings.

"Where you get in trouble in T20 cricket is when you've faced three dot balls and you feel like you have to hit a boundary to release the pressure," captain Ross Taylor says.

A floating order initiative was also in place but not used, given only three wickets were lost, including McCullum off the last ball. The top four - Martin Guptill, Franklin, McCullum and probably Ross Taylor - were fixed but numbers five through to eight were not. Left-handers Daniel Vettori and Jacob Oram and right-handers Kane Williamson and Rob Nicol appeared to have pads on, so the team could mix-and-match partnerships. The idea was to keep disrupting the Bangladesh bowling rhythms. A similar plan could be enacted for Pakistan, especially for the spinners, depending on whether they play Ajmal, Afridi and/or 20-year left-armer Raza Hasan.

Taylor says they may rethink their order for Pakistan.

"It's no certainty James (Franklin) will continue to open the batting. After doing our scouting we might feel he's more use in the middle order because there might be more seam bowling early on."

Andrew Alderson flew to the Twenty20 World Cup in Sri Lanka courtesy of Emirates Airline.

- Herald on Sunday

Andrew Alderson

Andrew Alderson is a sport writer for the Herald on Sunday.

Andrew Alderson writes on sport for the Herald on Sunday. His main focuses are cricket and the Olympic disciplines. His most recent project was reporting on New Zealand sportspeople competing in Europe during the 2013 northern summer. He has attended three cricket World Cups and three Olympics.

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