During the first ICC 2019 World Cup semi-final between India and New Zealand, Steve Waugh was in the commentary box alongside Sourav Ganguly and Harsha Bhogle. The 1999 World Cup-winning captain made a very important comment about how to approach big matches like these, mentally. "Sometimes, you have to be ready to lose while trying to win in these big games," Waugh said.
He was talking about the strange batting approach that New Zealand had at that time in their innings. The experienced pair of Kane Williamson and Ross Taylor was at the crease and run-scoring was progressing at snail's pace. Ganguly looked at his wit's end trying to understand what the plan was of New Zealand, especially of Ross Taylor.
While Williamson had been at the crease from the fourth over of the innings and was, hence, the guy expected to be given the role of batting till the end, Taylor, being the new man at the crease, was supposed to press the accelerator. But the former New Zealand captain, seemed to be in a different mood altogether, and went completely into his shell. He seemed determined to block everything from the spinners.
This was understandable up to a point but overs were getting spent away and there seemed to be no move from New Zealand. Then came the time when the need for scoring quickly could not be avoided. With Williamson past his 50 and looking well set to go on and bat till the end of the innings, Taylor was clearly the man to take the initiative. Still, he seemed intractable and kept either blocking or pushing for singles.
As a result, it was Kane who felt he had to be the aggressor rather than the man to bat through the innings. He played some really nice attacking shots and did get the ball rolling. But with pressure for scoring quickly mounting, the Kiwi captain had to take risks and perished while attempting an ultra-aggressive cut shot on 67 with his team's score at 134/3 in 35.2 overs.
Suddenly, the man expected to take New Zealand ashore was gone. There is a view that the pitch is very slow and is turning sharply as well. Ravindra Jadeja did get a few deliveries to spin sharply and batsmen were having difficulties in timing. But such things seem exaggerated when a team is batting negatively. It is very possible that when Rohit Sharma and KL Rahul arrive at the crease, the pitch would start looking batting-friendly.
When rain stopped play, New Zealand had pushed on to 211/5 in 46.1 overs with Taylor batting at 67 at 85. If play resumes and Taylor plunders runs in the final overs, he may be forgiven but that seems unlikely.
If only Taylor had been more positive – even in pinching singles if not attempting boundaries, the run-rate would have been better and Williamson would not have had to sacrifice his wicket. A set Williamson may have gone on to score a hundred and plunder more runs. However, Taylor's timidity and unwillingness to take any risk left the Kiwis in a batting quick-sand. Only time will tell whether Taylor's approach costs New Zealand dearly.