Every man and their dog has dubbed New Zealand the “dark horse” of the cricket world cup. Leaving aside that the fact that everybody rating them as dark horses means that they are no longer dark horses and are now just rated, lets have a look at some of the reasons why this might be the case. In terms of winning percentage in the last year, New Zealand rank 5th behind Australia, South Africa, India and Sri Lanka. That’s good, but all things being equal you’d expect all the other teams ahead of them to be more highly rated as “chances”.
This isn’t the case. Betting agencies have them as the third favourite behind Australia and South Africa, suggesting a lot of people think they are far more likely to win the World cup than India, Sri Lanka and England. Part of that is obviously the hometown advantage but I would argue the other part of that is variance. New Zealand might not be proper “good” like South Africa and Australia, but they are erratic. In terms of their chances of winning the world cup, that actually helps.
Let me explain. To win the world cup, you really only need to win three games (we’ve ranted about this here). So for the top 8 sides (which we already know!!!), it’s the ability to win those three games that really matters. For the lesser lights, it’s about the ability to get “lucky”. That is to win the world cup, you have to beat Australia and/or South Africa and all things being equal, that won’t usually happen. As we’ve seen in the tri-series, when you put a good side against slightly less good sides the good side usually wins. For the less good side to win, they need someone to do something damned good to make up for their lack of quality.
So while India and England are “good” (and probably better than NZ), they don’t have the guys capable of pulling a rabbit out of a hat, of scoring 170 off 100 balls to manufacture an upset out of nowhere (away from home in India’s case). New Zealand on the other hand have Brendan McCullum. On average McCullum isn’t all that good, he averages 30. The thing is though, when he fires, he can single handedly make NZ competitive against much, much better opponents. That fact means he is valuable, it means NZ can beat much better teams, teams they “shouldn’t” beat.
In fact the New Zealand side has a few guys a little like that, including Anderson and Ronchi. Combine them with a couple of proper good batsmen in Williamson and Taylor and a decent bowling attack, if New Zealand fire they are one of the few side that can beat an in form South Africa or Australia. Of course its not the most likely thing to happen, but it’s probably more likely than India, England or Sri Lanka doing it. So the punters are probably right; New Zealand are probably the team outside of Australia or South Africa that is most likely to “get lucky”. That is they have a number of players who can make their own luck. To win they will need a lot of it, but they CAN do it.
Which brings me to Glenn Maxwell. Maxwell is New Zealand in a player. This means that he could well be a very important part of Australia’s campaign, despite half of Australia thinking he is rubbish. The reason is the same: variance. Maxwell might not be consistent, he might get out doing silly stuff far far too often, but he can be brilliant.
He can be proper brilliant. That is why Australia carry him. He can win games. Of course the criticism of him is he doesn’t do it enough, which is fair, but in a competition like the World Cup the gamble is probably worth it. If Australia find themselves in an impossible position, Maxwell is one of the only players Australia has who can perform miracles. For the price they are paying, I’d say Australia are getting an absolute bargain.
Of course in both cases, the flip side is true. If you were to pick the player most likely to be bowled leaving a ball that is going to hit the stumps mid-way up middle, Maxwell is the safest bet. If you are going to pick which of the World Cup favourites is most likely to lose to a minnow, it’s probably New Zealand. Variance can make you great for a short period of time, but it doesn’t last.