New Zealand were 180 for 3. They needed a further 168 to win, off 111 balls, or just a tick above nine runs an over. Tom Latham was batting on 4 off 14 balls.
New Zealand fans following ESPNcricinfo’s ball-by-ball commentary were turning edgy. One of them questioned Latham’s decision to bat himself ahead of James Neesham and Colin de Grandhomme.
“I’ve read 2 comments now saying a lot will depend on the two all rounders, at this rate it’s gonna be too late before they get in, the aggressive and correct options [sic] was to send one of them in above Latham, he scores too slowly for this sort of situation, hence why he doesn’t play T20s.”
Kuldeep Yadav floated the next ball up outside off stump. Latham stretched forward and swept it hard, all along the ground, and bisected deep backward square leg and deep midwicket. The next ball, almost an action replay save for landing a little closer to off stump, disappeared into the same gap, in the same, unstoppable way.
Two balls, two clinical sweeps, eight runs.
The sweep played a central role in New Zealand’s successful chase of 348, the biggest target they’ve ever overhauled in ODIs. The shot allowed them to dominate India’s spinners, Kuldeep and Ravindra Jadeja, who went for a combined 148 in their 20 overs.
In all, according to ESPNcricinfo’s data, Latham played 11 sweeps of various descriptions (conventional, paddle, slog, reverse), scoring 25 runs off them. Sweeps brought Henry Nicholls 13 off seven balls, and Ross Taylor 26 off 13.
That’s 64 runs in total, off 31 balls.
India’s batsmen, in contrast, only played two sweeps of any description. One was a slog-sweep for six by Kedar Jadhav in the 48th over, off Tim Southee, a fast bowler. Off the 84 balls (not including wides) India faced from spinners Mitchell Santner and Ish Sodhi, they only played one sweep.
This isn’t to knock India’s batsmen for their shot choices. Most of them aren’t regular sweepers when you compare them to Nicholls, Taylor and Latham, who are among the world’s most prolific players of the shot. Moreover, conditions weren’t exactly the same for both sides. The pitch had flattened out considerably when New Zealand batted, while the odd ball gripped and stopped on the batsmen during India’s innings.
India also had less of an opportunity to attack the spinners, with Latham pulling Sodhi out of the attack after KL Rahul hit the legspinner for successive sixes in his fourth over. Wary of the six-hitting ability of Rahul and Shreyas Iyer, Latham used his fifth and sixth bowlers, Neesham and de Grandhomme, for a combined 16 overs.
Henry Nicholls uses the sweep to good effect Getty Images
India didn’t have a sixth bowling option, unless you consider Jadhav, who has bowled just four times in his last 11 ODIs. At his best, his stump-to-stump round-armers might have kept New Zealand from sweeping as much as they did, given his lack of bounce, but the fact that he’s stopped bowling regularly suggests he’s lost rhythm or confidence, or the confidence of the team management.
And so, India had to keep bowling Jadeja and the under-fire Kuldeep, who went for 84 in his ten overs. New Zealand feasted on these overs, demonstrating just how dangerous a weapon the sweep can be on a flat pitch, and on a ground with one short square boundary. Taylor singled this out in his Player-of-the-Match interview.
“Tom batted very well, but I think we were fortunate with the right-left-hand combination throughout the innings and we were able to target the short boundary,” Taylor told the host broadcaster. “[For] Tom to come in there wasn’t easy to start, but I thought the way he way he came in there and targeted that short boundary released a lot of pressure off me, and, you know, that innings was fantastic.”
The sweep gave India their one chance to end Taylor’s innings early, when he top-edged Jadeja while on 10, but Kuldeep misjudged the swirling chance at short fine leg. That apart, New Zealand’s batsmen swept with unerring brilliance, putting away all kinds of lines, hitting with and against the turn, and in doing so severely narrowing the range of lengths the spinners could bowl.
Take the 24th over, for example. First, Nicholls swept a good-length ball from Kuldeep hard and square to beat the fielder at deep backward square leg. Kuldeep went fuller to compensate, but drifted slightly down leg, and Nicholls paddled him away for a couple. The next ball, almost inevitably, was a touch short, and at Kuldeep’s pace, he doesn’t need to be all that short to get pulled fiercely between mid-on and midwicket.
What is a spinner to do? Jadeja might have asked himself that question, when Latham reverse-swept him against the turn, from well outside leg stump, over a leaping backward point fielder, and Taylor followed up with two slog-sweeps, for four and six, in the same over.
India, in the end, could only sit back and admire their opponents’ skill.
“Credit has to be given where it’s due, and I think they batted outstandingly well,” Virat Kohli said at the post-match presentation. “We thought 348 was good enough, especially with the start we got as well, with the ball. We were patient enough to get a couple of wickets and then got a run-out in there as well.
“But then, Ross obviously is the most experienced player [in the New Zealand team] now that Kane [Williamson] is not there, but I think Tom’s innings was something that took the momentum away from us, after Nicholls got out, and as I said, those two in the middle overs were simply unstoppable.
“Credit to them, the way they batted and the areas they hit, it made life very difficult for our bowlers.”