Williamson: Black Caps not favourites for elusive win in India

By Sports Desk November 24, 2021

Kane Williamson insists New Zealand will not be favourites when they start the defence of their World Test Championship title against an under-strength India side in Kanpur on Thursday.

The Black Caps beat India by eight wickets in the inaugural World Test Championship at the Ageas Bowl in June, so India will be out for revenge in the two-match series on home soil.

Virat Kohli has been rested for the first Test, so Ajinkya Rahane takes charge of a team that will not include Rohit Sharma, KL Rahul, Jasprit Bumrah, Mohammad Shami and Rishabh Pant.

Rohit, Bumrah, Shami and Pant have been given a rest for both games, while Rahul misses out due to a thigh strain.

India have plenty of strength in depth, though, and you have to go back 33 years for the last time they lost a home match against the Black Caps in the longest format.

New Zealand captain Williamson sat out India's 3-0 T20I whitewash of the tourists, which came so soon after his side had been beaten by Australia in the T20 World Cup final in Dubai.

The prolific batsman knows the Black Caps face a huge challenge, particularly without the opportunity to play any warm-up games.

He said: "I don't think we are favourites. One of the key strengths of Indian cricket is its depth. India has great knowledge of their own conditions, we know the challenge is a big one."

Williamson added: "As we have seen in this part of the world, the spin component has been very large and it has played a big role in changing the complexion of the game.

"I am sure throughout the whole series, the spin component will be a factor and it will be no different in Kanpur. It will be all about assessing the conditions as quickly as possible."

 

Opportunity knocks for Iyer

Shreyas Iyer will make his debut after Rahul was ruled out and is set to come into the middle order, with Shubman Gill to open with Mayank Agarwal.

The 26-year-old right-hander averages 52.18 in first-class cricket, scoring 12 centuries and boasting a strike-rate of 81.54.

Rahane hinted that India may play three spinners, stating: "We are not too sure of the combination. But in India you generally get spin-friendly wickets, the ball generally keeps slightly low and slow.

"We expect that but not too sure how the wicket will play. We will have to wait until tomorrow and assess from there."

Refreshed Jamieson closing in on half-century

Kyle Jamieson joined Williamson in missing the T20I series as the Black Caps managed his workload.

The paceman has made an outstanding start to his Test career and was man of the match when New Zealand beat India in the final in Southampton, having claimed match figures of 7-61.

Four wickets shy of 50 in the longest format, it would be a surprise if Jamieson does not come straight back into the team, particularly with Trent Boult not involved in the series.

New Zealand, who are unbeaten in nine Tests and have never gone 10 without defeat, must decide who replaces Devon Conway (broken hand) at the top of the order, with Will Young appearing set to get the nod.

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    Michael Jordan has company at last.

    The Chicago Bulls legend was for a long time the only player to average more than 30 points per game in the NBA playoffs, yet Luka Doncic is now writing his own name into the history books in Dallas.

    The Mavericks superstar has a long way to go before he can come anywhere close to matching Jordan's achievements, but he has been spectacular in scoring 32.7 points per game through his first four postseason series.

    Not only is Jordan (33.4 points per game) the sole player to top Doncic's mark across a playoff career, he alone since 1963-64 joins the former EuroLeague sensation in scoring more than 750 points over his first 23 postseason games (823 for Jordan, 751 for Doncic).

    These look to be early steps in a truly great NBA career for Doncic, and he could yet end this season as a champion.

    The Slovenian was outgunned taking on the Los Angeles Clippers on his own in the first round in consecutive years, but the Mavericks made bold moves this year – most notably appointing Jason Kidd and trading away Kristaps Porzingis – and are now in the Western Conference Finals.

    Although Doncic averaged 32.6 points as the Mavericks beat the Phoenix Suns in the second round, he crucially had help, now surrounded with defense and shooting.

    Dallas held the Suns to their three lowest points totals of the season (94 in Game 3, 90 in Game 7, 86 in Game 6), while Doncic and Spencer Dinwiddie became the first team-mates to each score 30 points in a Game 7 since Los Angeles Lakers greats Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O'Neal against the Sacramento Kings in 2002.

    As the tournament heats up, Doncic will need all the assistance he can get – but any Mavericks title run surely depends on their main man being the best player in every series.

    That becomes a little tougher when Dallas are faced next with playoff veterans the Golden State Warriors.

    This is the 10th year of the Steph-Klay-Draymond Warriors, in which time they have been to five NBA Finals, won three championships and seen off a whole host of superstars.

    There are plenty of examples for Doncic to learn from then as he prepares to take on the greatest team of the past decade.

    LeBron James (33.0 points per game, 7-15 record)

    Ja Morant, who scored 35 points against Golden State in last year's play-in tournament, averaged 38.3 points across three games in the 2022 second round until a knee injury ended his series and, ultimately, the Memphis Grizzlies' season. That is the highest mark posted against the Warriors in the past 10 years, albeit with a limited sample size.

    Among those to play 10 or more games, James (33.0 points per game) leads the way. Equally as impressive, the four-time MVP has the most total playoff points versus the Warriors since 2012 (727) – despite spending the bulk of his career in the Eastern Conference.

    James did score 22 in a Lakers play-in win over the Warriors in 2021, but all of their 22 postseason encounters have come across four Finals series. Unfortunately, while James has excelled, his teams have not fared quite so well.

    Prior to Morant's explosion, James accounted for three of the four highest series averages against the Warriors over this period – 35.8 in 2015, 34.0 in 2018 and 33.6 in 2017 – but the Cleveland Cavaliers lost on each occasion. Their one Finals win came in 2016, when James scored 29.7 points per game.

    James had a little more help in 2016 – we'll come on to that – and the Cavaliers' various failures perhaps best illustrate the folly of Doncic attempting to take on a super-team alone.

    The 51 points James scored in Game 1 in 2018 were the most against the Warriors in a single playoff game in the past 10 years, but he was let down by his team-mates – we're looking at you, J.R. Smith – and Cleveland not only lost that series opener but were then swept.

    James Harden (29.8 points per game, 7-16 record)

    Harden's playoff career is best known for his repeated failures to get the better of the Warriors, losing all of his four series against Golden State while on the Houston Rockets, yet only James has scored more points in such matchups since 2012 (685).

    Counted among Harden's 23 postseason games against the Warriors in the past 10 years – only Iman Shumpert (24) has played more – are three 41-plus-point performances. James alone can top that (five games).

    However, Harden has also failed to reach 20 points on five occasions, twice shooting worse than 20 per cent from the field in 2015. Consistency is the key at this time of year, and Harden has not had that.

    The Rockets blew their biggest opportunity to make a first Finals since 1995 in 2018, when they led the Warriors 3-2 in the Conference Finals before Chris Paul went down injured. Houston lost Game 6 and Game 7, collapsing dramatically in the first of the two defeats as Harden did not contribute a single fourth-quarter point.

    Doncic, unsurprisingly, has never shot worse than 20 per cent in the playoffs, while his best shooting performance (63.2 per cent) came in Game 7 against the Suns and his career-high points total came in Game 7 against the Los Angeles Clippers (46).

    Kyrie Irving (27.7 points per game, 5-8 record)

    Given Irving was the Cavaliers' second man behind James, it is difficult to draw a direct comparison with Doncic. But the point guard's performances show the sort of levels Dinwiddie or Jalen Brunson may have to reach to beat the Warriors if they are at the top of their game.

    Irving's 2015 Finals debut ended in Game 1 when he sustained a fractured kneecap, but he returned in 2016 and played a huge role in the Cavaliers' historic win.

    Cleveland were trailing 3-1 heading into Game 5 – a deficit that had never previously been overturned – only for Irving and James each to score 41 points, becoming the first team-mates to both top 40 in a Finals game. Irving shot 70.8 per cent from the field.

    As the Cavaliers recovered to win 4-3, with Irving shooting a decisive three late in Game 7, his usage rate was a lofty 30.7 per cent for the series, taking responsibility off James' shoulders. Brunson is the Mavericks' second man, although his usage rate of 29.7 per cent was boosted a little by playing three games without the ball-dominant Doncic.

    Damian Lillard (27.6 points per game, 1-12 record)

    If nothing else, Lillard and the Portland Trail Blazers provide an example of how not to play the Warriors. Only former Blazers team-mate Rodney Hood (0-12) has a worse record in playoff games against Golden State in the past 10 years.

    A 43.7 per cent career shooter, Lillard has averaged 38.7 per cent from the field against the Warriors in the postseason. Sure, he has scored 27.6 points, but it has taken him 22.1 field goal attempts per game.

    When Steph Curry and Klay Thompson are on the other side of the floor, you cannot afford to be so inefficient. Lillard's sole victory in 2016 came courtesy of his one 40-point performance – while Curry was out injured.

    Only Allen Iverson (26.5) and Jordan (25.1) have attempted more field goals per playoff game than Doncic (24.3), so there is definitely scope for the Warriors to profit if he cools off – not that there has been a great deal of evidence to suggest that is likely.

    Kawhi Leonard (21.9 points per game, 8-5 record)

    The man who has occupied Doncic's playoff nightmares in the previous two seasons surely provides the blueprint for how to enjoy postseason success against the Warriors.

    Leonard has played on two of the four teams to eliminate Golden State from the playoffs in the past 10 years; he has not lost a series to the Warriors – missing the entirety of their 4-1 defeat of the San Antonio Spurs in 2018 – and boasts the best winning percentage of any player to face Steve Kerr's winning machine on more than 10 occasions over this period.

    The 2019 Finals showed the sort of standard that has been required to get the better of the Warriors in the past decade, with Leonard dominant as the outstanding player on the Toronto Raptors. He led the Raptors in points (171), rebounds (59) and steals (12) versus the Warriors, ranking second in assists (25) and blocks (seven).

    Doncic made strides on defense over the course of the Suns series, but whether he is capable of such an all-round display is very much up for debate.

  • Key backs Mott and Morgan to mastermind more white-ball glory for England Key backs Mott and Morgan to mastermind more white-ball glory for England

    Rob Key is confident Matthew Mott and Eoin Morgan will form a "formidable partnership" to ensure England mount strong challenges for more trophies.

    Mott was on Wednesday confirmed as England's new white-ball head coach, signing a four-year deal.

    The 49-year-old had been in charge of the Australia women's team since 2015, overseeing consecutive T20 World Cup triumphs and guiding them to 50-Over World Cup glory this year.

    Mott helped Australia win a record 26 consecutive ODIs, while he has had success as head coach of New South Wales and been in charge at Glamorgan.

    England will head to India next year to try and retain their 50-over World Cup title and should be strong contenders at the T20 World Cup in Australia later this year.

    Key is confident Mott is the right man to give England every chance of further success.

    The managing director of England's men's cricket said: "It is a real privilege to be able to announce Mathew Mott as the head coach of our men's white-ball team.

    "He has had an incredible coaching journey with so many varied experiences that have brought him to this point where he was outstanding in the interview process and the perfect fit for our white-ball teams.

    "We are lucky to be able to appoint a head coach that has not only been involved in international cricket for the last few years but he has also worked in franchise cricket around the world. More importantly, what he has done with the Australian women's team is what will be asked of him to achieve for our men's white-ball sides.

    "I'm confident that in Eoin Morgan and Matthew Mott, we have a formidable partnership that can push for more trophies in the coming years and that Matthew will be able to oversee any transition that team will go through in the future. 

    "Furthermore, Matthew will also help us invest in English coaches getting them as much experience as possible over the next few years."

  • England recall Anderson and Broad, uncapped Brook and Potts in squad to face New Zealand England recall Anderson and Broad, uncapped Brook and Potts in squad to face New Zealand

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    Broad and Anderson were omitted for the 1-0 series defeat against West Indies in the Caribbean following the 4-0 Ashes hammering in Australia.

    But the experienced seam duo are in the first squad under new captain Ben Stokes and head coach Brendon McCullum, with the opening match of the series against the Black Caps starting at Lord's on June 2.

    Yorkshire batter Brook and Durham paceman Potts have been handed maiden call-ups after impressive starts to the County Championship seamer.

    Brook, who made his T20 debut for England in the Caribbean earlier this year, has an incredible average of 151.60 in the County Championship this season, while Potts is the leading wicket-taker with 35 and claimed 7-40 in a win over Glamorgan last time out.

    With former captain Joe Root batting at number four, Ollie Pope is set to come in at number three in the order.

    "This is the start of a new era for our Test team under the stewardship of Ben and Brendon," managing director of men’s cricket Rob Key stated.

    "With a blend of youth and experience, we have selected an exciting squad that can compete with New Zealand in next month's Test series.

    "We have rewarded players in Harry Brook and Matty Potts who have had outstanding starts to the County season, and they deserve the opportunity to stake a claim at this level.

    "It promises to be a mouthwatering series, and I can't wait for the team to start against a very good New Zealand side.

    "It is a fascinating prospect for everyone connected with the sport in this country."

    England Test Squad: Ben Stokes (captain), James Anderson, Jonny Bairstow, Stuart Broad, Harry Brook,, Zak Crawley, Ben Foakes, Jack Leach, Alex Lees, Craig Overton, Matty Potts, Ollie Pope, Joe Root.

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