Matt Henry, the New Zealand pacer, is confident of his team’s ability to handle pressure and is ready to face the challenge against Afghanistan at the ongoing 2023 World Cup. After starting their World Cup campaign with three straight victories, the 2019 finalist will face the Afghan Atalan on Wednesday at the M.A. Chidambaram Stadium in Chennai.
“It’s been a fantastic four years for most of us to get here to India, and it’s great to finally be here and play some good cricket. It’s been a great start for us, but we also recognise that this is a long tournament with a lot of work ahead of us,” Henry told Sportstar during the Black Caps’ optional training session on Monday.
In one of the most significant upsets in World Cup history, Afghanistan achieved its biggest-ever victory, defeating defending champion England by a margin of 69 runs at the Arun Jaitley Stadium in New Delhi. Henry was quick to praise his next opponent. “The cricket Afghanistan has played over the last few years has been very dominant. The way they played against England the other day was impressive. We know they have a lot of game-changers on their team. We will not take them lightly. It is something on which we will be doing our homework and plan accordingly,” Henry said.
Afghanistan’s formidable spin trio, featuring Rashid Khan, Mohammad Nabi, and Mujeeb Ur Rahman, combined to take eight wickets against England. But New Zealand openers Devon Conway and Rachin Ravindra, along with Daryl Mitchell, are skilled at facing spin. The aggressive lower-order pair of Mark Chapman and Glenn Phillips sets the stage for an exciting battle.
“I think there’s something for the batters as well, and I’m sure that they would all have their batting plans. But Afghanistan has world-class bowlers, and the spin attack is their strength. They have been bowling well as a unit. For us, this game is making sure that we continue on the path of our game and looking to adapt as quickly as we can to whatever surface is presented to us,” Henry said.
New Zealand’s potent pace battery comprises Trent Boult, Lockie Ferguson, and Matt Henry. Remarkably, on the spin-friendly Chepauk pitch, they secured eight wickets in their recent match against Bangladesh. Henry, standing at 6 feet 2 inches, is renowned for his precise yorkers and his effective use of scramble seam. He stressed the significance of accuracy on Indian pitches.
“It’s a bit of natural variation (scramble seam). If you don’t know whether the ball is going to nip in or nip away, I believe it is going to be hard for the batters to figure it out too. The key thing is to be accurate in India. You need to bowl your right lines and lengths because any width gets hurt pretty quickly,” he said.
Asked what the plan of action is if there is not enough seam movement, Henry said, “That’s why you have to use your lengths wisely, and I believe [bowling coach] Shane Jurgensen has done an excellent job with our bowling group by ensuring that we’re well-prepared and have options to try to exploit different areas of different batters. It is sometimes necessary to be more defensive in order to attack. Controlling the run rate and applying pressure are sometimes essential. It just depends on the surface and the scenario of the game, and I believe the adaptation process is most important in our bowling group.”
The regular captain, Kane Williamson, who had been absent from international cricket for seven months due to a ligament injury, was forced to retire hurt against Bangladesh after scoring a resilient 78. He fractured his thumb after getting hit by a throw while completing a run.
“It’s pretty cruel. I am absolutely gutted for him. But there are encouraging signs that he is still here and may play a role later in the tournament. The work he’s done to, first and foremost, get here shows his class. He has been brilliant for us for a number of years. And then for something like this to happen, it is just pure bad luck. My heart goes out to him, but he’s a world-class performer, so he’ll be back soon and ready to go,” Henry expressed about Kane.
In the absence of Williamson, Tom Latham has proven himself as a strong leader.
“Tom has been brilliant,” Henry said. “For a long time, he’s been an excellent captain for us. Being a wicketkeeper poses unique challenges. But I believe there is a little more trust in the bowling group. He is also involved in our bowling meetings, so he always has a general idea of what we’re trying to accomplish, and we bowlers make sure that we’re bouncing ideas off at the top of the mark.”
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