New Zealand could play spoiler at Cricket World Cup
John Wright has an unwavering belief that his New Zealand squad can live up to its reputation of producing shocking upsets at the Cricket World Cup, despite its poor recent form in the limited-overs arena.
Wins at the start and end of a 3-2 series loss to Pakistan at home recently were New Zealand's only two victories in its last 16 limited-overs internationals.
In a troubling prelude to a World Cup on the subcontinent, an 11-match drought before its first win over Pakistan last month included a 5-0 series loss in India and a 4-0 series loss in Bangladesh.
As its losing streak approached its record 13-match winless run in the mid 1990s, New Zealand seemed to have lost the knack of winning one-day matches, something which it had been able to draw on reliably even when its test form declined.
- Daniel Vettori (captain)
- Hamish Bennett
- James Franklin
- Martin Guptill
- Jamie How
- Brendon McCullum
- Nathan McCullum
- Kyle Mills
- Jacob Oram
- Jesse Ryder
- Tim Southee
- Scott Styris
- Ross Taylor
- Kane Williamson
- Luke Woodcock
New Zealand's first concern at the World Cup will be to clear the group round, not so easy given its recent propensity for losing to lower-ranked teams.
That means avoiding loss against Zimbabwe, Kenya and Canada and then beating either of Australia, Sri Lanka or Pakistan — all former World Cup winners — in Group A.
"That gets you to the next stage and then it's a one off and that's exciting because some of those teams have enormous pressure on them," Wright said. "If we can put it together on the day, we can beat anyone."
An unsettled and underperforming top-order has frequently led to a lack of runs in recent times and a bowling attack which, with the loss of Shane Bond, was containing rather than threatening left New Zealand to fall back on its one regular strength — the quality of its fielding.
Stephen Fleming's retirement also deprived New Zealand of experience and tactical command, leaving an under-resourced Daniel Vettori to find his way by trial and error. Vettori is not the one-day tactician Fleming was, but New Zealand has in its corner at this World Cup a man with knowledge and experience to help it transcend its recent form.
Wright brings to the New Zealand team the experience of a man who coached India to a World Cup final, admittedly with much better players than he currently has at his disposal, and whose five years coaching on the subcontinent will be to New Zealand's advantage.
However, the relationship between Wright and Vettori may be problematic. Until Wright's appointment last month, which was made largely to quiet public anger at the New Zealand team's persistently poor form, Vettori enjoyed almost unbridled power as captain, coach and selector.
While his public comments about Wright's involvement with the team have been diplomatic, the perception remains that Vettori would prefer not to be taking instructions and believes the team should be run by its senior players.
A failure at the World Cup would likely impact on Wright more than on Vettori who has survived past performance reviews because of his privileged position as New Zealand's only player of world class.
Wright has a prescription for World Cup success, based at least in part on his own previous experience, but he may face resistance from senior players in its implementation.
Vettori and Wright are at least expected to have a free hand with selection during the World Cup after being at odds during the Pakistan series with a selection panel that sought to experiment.
New Zealand seems to have decided on its best 12 for the World Cup but may change that as injuries, the calibre of its opponents, pitch conditions and other circumstances dictate.
It has in Martin Guptill, Brendon McCullum and Jesse Ryder an explosive but hit-and-miss top three. There follows an experienced middle order of Ross Taylor, Scott Styris, Jacob Oram and allrounder James Franklin. Nathan McCullum offers batting and bowling options ahead of Vettori and seamers Tim Southee, Hamish Bennett and Kyle Mills.
The inclusion of Nathan McCullum, Styris, Oram, Franklin, Vettori, Guptill and even Ryder, all of whom can bowl short or long spells, gives New Zealand versatility.
Oram can be a pivotal player but he departs for the World Cup, in a manner typical of his career, under a cloud with a foot injury. Ryder and Vettori also have injury concerns.
"Jake [Oram] is like our banker," Wright said. "He's Mr. Steady.
"His experience with the ball is important. He allows us to bat a little deeper."
Wright learned the critical importance of getting the balance of selection right when he led India into the 2003 World Cup final against Australia with seven batsmen, a conservative mix. It didn't take him long to discover he would have been better served utilizing his two outstanding spin bowlers and three pacemen at the expense of one batsman.
Applying that to New Zealand in 2011, he said: "You'll look at Australia and think we've got to back our batsmen to get the runs and have five bowlers [when] the safe approach is playing seven batters," he said. "Then, perhaps against Kenya, Zimbabwe, Canada etc., you could get by with four bowlers.
"You have to be brave to beat big teams," Wright added.
New Zealand "have to think outside the square and we've got to do a lot of analysis of who we're playing."