Beware the Black Caps

By Stuart Hess Time of article published Feb 10, 2011

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One could make the argument that New Zealand have punched above their weight at the World Cup just as easily as you could say they are ‘chokers’.

The Black Caps have played in every World Cup and been to five semifinals; yet never got over that latter hump. The fact they’ve got to five semifinals can be viewed as a tribute to their skill and creativity, but also to have never made the final, is indicative of a team that lacks the mental resilience on the big occasion.

They come into this year’s Cricket World Cup, with many in the Land of the Long White Cloud, expecting them to make the quarter-finals, though at the same time, they wouldn’t be surprised if they returned home after the group stages.

In a group containing minnows; Canada, Kenya and Zimbabwe, the Black Caps are quite rightly, expected to accompany Australia, Pakistan and Sri Lanka into the last eight, but such has been their wretched form in the last 12 months, that they’re being viewed as major candidates for an upset.

New Zealand have been victims of their own over-thinking; coaches have come and gone, the method for picking teams has changed and players have flitted in and out over the last couple of years. It all seems a long way removed from the composed and intelligent leadership witnessed under Stephen Fleming.

That’s not to say current skipper Daniel Vettori is lacking in the cerebral stakes, merely that under his leadership New Zealand have done too much thinking about players, selection and strategy and ended up confusing themselves. And that has been reflected in results on the field, the low point being a crushing series defeat in Bangladesh.

In all they’ve won just eight of 27 ODIs in the last 12 months, three of those wins came at home against Bangladesh. Injuries to key players like Jacob Oram haven’t helped, but beyond that the New Zealand side has had no stability in the background, with coaches and structures changing.

John Wright became their fourth coach in two years when he was appointed to the position last December. Wright replaced a sort of three-way coaching, analysing, selection system involving Mark Greatbatch, Roger Mortimer and Vettori that never worked.

Wright doesn’t have a lot of time to correct matters, and the current series against Pakistan has seen the side continue to struggle. The alarming inconsistency coupled with the lack of confidence that results from losing won’t help them as they attempt to get out of their group at the World Cup.

Given their current state it’s no exaggeration to suggest that their match against Zimbabwe on March 4 could very well be a decider for fourth spot. The Zimbabweans are a motivated group who’ve been making big strides as they attempt to regain their Test status. In addition they’ll also be further motivated to take on the New Zealanders to put right what they regard as a slight after the Kiwis refused to tour Zimbabwe last year sighting health concerns.

New Zealand don’t lack talent; Ross Taylor, Jesse Ryder and Brendon McCullum are all explosive players, who will need to be close to, if not at, their best for the Kiwis to get beyond the quarter-finals. McCullum’s form is a concern, but he is the kind of player who needs just one innings to suddenly find fire.

Jamie How will be one to look out for and if he plays his usual steady and consistent role at the top of the order, it will allow the likes of Taylor, Ryder and McCullum to attack more.

Their bowling looks decidedly iffy, though New Zealand have rarely possessed the kind of aggressive quick bowling that countries with larger player bases have. Vettori is the undoubted star, but he can only bowl 10 overs, and in Tim Southee, Kyle Mills and James Franklin they have a seam bowling unit, which on sub-continent pitches will be bashed all over the place.

If they can rely on the innovative thinking that was such a part of Fleming’s era as captain and which caught everyone off-guard – like when they opened the bowling with a spinner in 1992 – New Zealand might go further than many sceptics think.

The quarterfinals looks a good bet though; but once the tournament is over one can’t help but think another overhaul will occur, after all Wright wants to put his mark on this team and Vettori’s giving up the captaincy.

KEY PLAYERS

ROSS TAYLOR

Much talked up batsman; certainly talent-wise he is New Zealand’s best, but stringing substantial innings’ together has been a problem. On the flat sub-continent tracks – where he has previously starred in the IPL – he may shine. Has all the shots but needs consistency, and if he can get some help from the other top order players, that will certainly help to relieve the pressure that’s sure to be on his shoulders.

BRENDON McCULLUM

Capable of destroying any attack with his elaborate and clinical hitting. Lately though has been shifted around the batting order to accommodate what’s been a poor run of form with the bat. Was back as an opener in the final match against Pakistan last Saturday, and must stay there throughout the World Cup, if he is to make an impact.DANIEL VETTORI

New Zealand’s best and most reliable player. His will be the 10 overs with the ball which they will rely on the most and which the opposition will be most wary of. Useful with the bat in the lower order, if not as a big hitter then someone capable of getting the hitter on strike. Smart individual, but whether he has the parts in this Kiwi side to get them into the quarter-finals and then beyond is unlikely.

NEW ZEALAND: AT A GLANCE

PREVIOUS CWC

Semifinalists - 1975, 79, 92, 99, 2007. 1st round – 1983, 87, 96, 2003

SQUAD

Daniel Vettori (capt), Luke Woodcock, Jamie How, Martin Guptill, Ross Taylor, Scott Styris, Jesse Ryder, Brendon McCullum, Jacob Oram, Kane Williamson, Nathan McCullum, James Franklin, Hamish Bennett, Tim Southee, Kyle MillsSCHEDULE

v Kenya, Chennai, Feb 20

v Australia, Nagpur, Feb 25

v Zimbabwe, Ahmedabad, March 4

v Pakistan, Kandy, March 8

v Canada, Mumbai, March 13

v Sri Lanka, Mumbai, March 18

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