New Zealand Group Favourites
07 Sep 2007
By: Zac Ritchie
New Zealand have been described as favourites for Group C although Sri Lanka will be nipping at their heels to be the best side.
New Zealand are the second most experienced Twenty20 international side, aside from England, and have a good record of three wins (one via a bowl-off) and two losses. It was them who played the first ever Twenty20 game against Australia and tasted success in their second game against South Africa thanks to a combination of slow bowlers who have proved effective at this level.
The interesting choice of pushing Brendan McCullum up the order to open batting will be a key factor in whether New Zealand are successful. McCullum has the ability to single-handedly snatch the game away from the opposition by taking advantage of the compulsory six overs of power plays. While he hasn?t experienced much success in ODI cricket as an opener, he has always got the team off to a blistering start with his power hitting. His partner at the top of the order is likely to be Lou Vincent as the Black Caps look to clear the infield during the first six overs.
Jacob Oram has been confirmed as batting at first-drop during the tournament, which means the top order will be full of big hitting batsmen. Ross Taylor, Peter Fulton and Scott Styris form an intimidating middle order of talented stroke players who can clear the ropes with ease. With the exclusion of former skipper Stephen Fleming, the onus has come on Styris to be the mainstay at #5 or #6 while the four batsmen above him will look to dominate the early bowling; Styris is capable of building on a good start or consolidating if early wickets fall. Newcomer Gareth Hopkins will take the wicket keeping gloves and bat at #7.
The fast bowling stocks look weak, with only Shane Bond having been effective at international level while Chris Martin and Mark Gillespie both have the tendency to be wayward and expensive. Skipper Daniel Vettori will again form a duo with off-spinner Jeetan Patel, a very effective pairing in limited overs cricket. Nathan McCullum and Bradley Scott, two seasoned campaigners in domestic cricket, add more depth to the bowling attack and could play big parts in the tournament if some of their more senior colleagues succumb to injury.
One the surface Sri Lanka look to be one of the favourites for this World Cup and their three Twenty20 games at international level have yielded good results. They have good experience with seasoned campaigners like Sanath Jayasuriya and Chaminda Vaas to mix in with the raw talent of Lasith Malinga and Chamara Silva.
Jayasuriya will again be leading the charge for his team, with the veteran opener?s batting suited to the blockbusting style of Twenty20 cricket and his left-arm darts expected to be miserly and economic. It was he who single-handedly won the 1st Twenty20 international against New Zealand in 2006, taking 3/21 during his 4 overs and then launching a blitzkrieg on the Kiwi bowlers before finishing on 51* from just 23 balls.
The rest of the top order looks solid, with the silky Upul Tharanga accompanying Jayasuriya as his opening partner and the experienced pair of Mahela Jayawardene, the captain, and Kumar Sangakkara consolidating the batting line-up. Two big hitters in Chamara Silva and Tillakaratne Dilshan are expected to follow while the fight for #7 is still up for grabs as both Hasantha Fernando and Kaushal Lokuarachchi look to stake a claim.
The bowling attack looks shaky without spinning maestro Muttiah Muralitharan, who is missing the tournament due to an elbow injury, but the steadying influence of Chaminda Vaas and deadly yorker possessed by Lasith Malinga will be vital for Sri Lankan success. Farveez Maharoof and Gayan Wijekoon are expected to fill the other bowling slots, both also being handy lower-order batsman.
Kenya are the minnows of this group and expected to be whipping boys for their two opponents during this pool. However, they have caused some upsets in the past, most notably at the 2003 World Cup where they reached the semi-finals. Poor form in the quadrangular warm-up tournament against Pakistan, Bangladesh and Uganda, failing to win a game, means the outlook is bleak for this small nation.
A fragile but talented batting line-up will likely be blown away by the pace of Shane Bond and Lasith Malinga. Steve Tikolo is easily the pick of the batsmen, some consider him the finest associate player ever, but it will be hard for one man to hold together a team. The Obuya brothers, David and Collins, are two of the more experienced Kenyan players and will offer some support. There is also the extremely skilful Tanmay Mishra, who has yet to stamp his mark on international cricket.
The bowling attack is much more impressive with Thomas Odoyo, Peter Ongondo and Nehemiah Odhiambo forming the trio of fast-medium bowlers, ably supported by Steve Tikolo who is a useful all-rounder. Collins Obuya will contribute some leg-spin to the cause but the name to watch is Hiren Vairaya, the left-arm orthodox bowler who will be looking to further his success at international level and is likely to be the Kenyan?s best bowler.
New Zealand look to have the most well-rounded squad but the exclusion of Stephen Fleming is sure to hurt their chances as they search for glory. Some experimentation is likely to take place, with talk of Jacob Oram batting at #3 and Jeetan Patel opening the bowling. Sri Lanka will be missing Muttiah Muralitharan as their best attacking weapon, but the class and experience of Jayasuriya, Sangakarra and Jayawardene at the top of the order may well prove too much for their opponents while the ever reliable Chaminda Vaas and deadly Lasith Malinga could run through sides. Kenya are the also rans for this pool, capable of causing an upset, but ultimately unlikely, although teams should watch out for Steve Tikolo who will put up strong resistance.
1st: New Zealand, 2nd: Sri Lanka, 3rd: Kenya