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CW World Cup Countdown. Day 10 - New Zealand
06 Mar 2007
By: Richard Edmunds


As part of a series of articles leading up to the World Cup, Cricket Web presents a daily review on the background, players and prospects a specific competing team, starting with the minnows and building up to the favourites. Today we feature New Zealand.

Introduction

New Zealand captain Stephen Fleming, when asked of his team's prospects for the World Cup, said that the Black Caps were "perennial dark horses". The veteran of 270 one-day internationals, preparing to attend his fourth World Cup and his third as captain, seems to have tired of having his team labelled as such. This time however New Zealand are widely considered to be among the leading contenders for the title and after a remarkable week of home matches will have the most public interest at home in their progress since their run to the semi-finals as co-hosts in 1992.

Lead-up to the Tournament

Just a month ago things were going terribly wrong for New Zealand and their hopes of lifting one-day cricket's greatest trophy seemed to be close to zero. After adopting a much-criticised rotation policy in the home series against Sri Lanka, in which they collapsed to 73 all out in the fourth ODI in Auckland, the team's most important players all seemed to be lacking match practise in the opening stages of the Commonwealth Bank Series in Australia. Things all seemed to be going disastrously wrong as crucial top-order batsman Nathan Astle announced his immediate resignation from international cricket, and although Jacob Oram and Lou Vincent returned to the side to great effect and seemed to launch an unlikely charge to the finals, New Zealand were the first team eliminated from the series after losing to eventual winners England in Brisbane.

The team returned home to a torrid reception in the media, who expected little from the team in the annual Chappell-Hadlee Series against Australia. But, seemingly gaining inspiration from the scathing attacks in the press, the New Zealanders romped to a 3-0 series victory, becoming the first team to beat Australia by ten wickets in winning the first game in Wellington and following it up with two mammoth chases of totals over 330 in Auckland and Hamilton.

The latter stages of the World Cup looked well and truly out of reach of the New Zealand team just a month ago. What a difference one week makes.

Star Players

Ross Taylor - Labelled a future star ever since he started plundering attacks for the Central Stags in the State Shield, Ross Taylor has become a dynamic top-order batsman who on current form would have to be in the top half-dozen young batsmen in the world. New Zealand have for years been searching for a quality middle-order batsman in one-day cricket and although it is still too soon to say they've definitely found it, the 22 year-old looks to have an enormously promising future. Taylor has scored two centuries in his first 18 one-day internationals and has an impressive strike-rate of just over 84 runs per 100 balls faced. If New Zealand do well in this World Cup, it will probably mean Ross Taylor has scored plenty of runs.

Brendon McCullum - In 2003 he was a liability behind the stumps and inconsistent with the bat, but four years later Brendon McCullum is a changed player. Tidy, energetic and often spectacular behind the stumps, McCullum is also one of the finest lower-order batsmen in world cricket. With incredible speed between the wickets and pure hitting strength when required, McCullum is an indispensable part of the New Zealand lineup and will probably cause some headaches for death bowlers in this tournament.

Daniel Vettori - Arguably in the top two or three one-day slow bowlers in the world, Vettori is a bowler so respected by opponents that most teams are content to see out his ten-over spell without scoring many more than 30-35 runs. Although he doesn't get a great deal of turn, Vettori is a master of variations in pace and flight, and will again provide many challenges for opposing batsmen.

Shane Bond - One of the most destructive bowlers in world cricket when at his best, the frustratingly injury-prone Bond struggled to find form in his comeback from yet another period of time on the sidelines in the Australian tour. He bounced back in the Chappell-Hadlee series however, ripping the Australians apart in Wellington to claim figures of 5-23. With an average still under 20 in one-day international cricket, Bond is a force to be reckoned with.

Strengths

Lower-order: New Zealand have a very strong and long batting line-up. The Black Caps are expected to have dual Test centurion Daniel Vettori at number eight, with James Franklin, who also has a Test century to his name, at nine and Shane Bond, with a first-class ton under his belt, at ten. With the likes of Craig McMillan, Jacob Oram and Brendon McCullum in the middle to lower order, teams won't be able to feel entirely comfortable even if they take four early wickets.

Fielding: Although it was uncharacteristically poor in Australia, New Zealand are a strong fielding side. Although they perhaps lack any star fielders who could be considered among the best in the world, they nearly all possess a safe pair of hands and the inner circle fielders are able to stop the majority of balls that go their way.

Weaknesses

Death bowling: A problem that has plagued the New Zealanders for as long as most people can remember. They still don't have a bowler who they can rely on to bowl six good balls an over at the death. This is something that could cost them.

New-ball: Although Shane Bond is an excellent new ball bowler, New Zealand have difficulty finding a partner to share it with him in the absence of Kyle Mills. Mills, one of the most improved bowlers in world cricket, will miss the tournament for knee surgery. In the squad in his place are Daryl Tuffey, James Franklin and Michael Mason, all capable bowlers but none of them have shown the consistency Mills has been able to provide in the last 18 months.

Previous World Cup Performances

Considered a team who save their best for the World Cup, New Zealand reached the semi-finals in 1975, 1979, 1992 and 1999, but have never progressed beyond that point. They probably would have reached the same stage in 2003 as well if they hadn't forfeited their game against Kenya in Nairobi for security concerns and as a result found themselves eliminated at the end of the Super Six round.

Predicted Finish in this World Cup

After three consecutive wins over Australia, it would be forgivable to think that New Zealand have at last found consistency. Ranked number three in the world, the Kiwis are capable of beating any opponent when they are at their best, although the same could be said about most teams in the top six or seven. With two teams progressing from their group, which also includes England, Kenya and Canada, New Zealand should almost certainly have no trouble in making the Super Eight. From there it is much harder to predict, but as the team have a reputation of lifting their game in World Cups they must be one of the favourites to reach the semi-finals.

Predicted Finish: Semi-Finals

New Zealand World Cup Squad
Stephen Fleming (captain), Shane Bond, James Franklin, Peter Fulton, Mark Gillespie, Brendon McCullum, Craig McMillan, Michael Mason, Jacob Oram, Jeetan Patel, Scott Styris, Ross Taylor, Daryl Tuffey, Daniel Vettori, Lou Vincent

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