News APP

NewsApp (Free)

Read news as it happens
Download NewsApp  » News » Can the Kiwis win WC 2003?

Can the Kiwis win WC 2003?

By Rajeev Pai
January 30, 2003 14:02 IST
Get Rediff News in your Inbox:

When the New Zealanders led by the gangly Stephen Fleming reached the final of the first ICC Champions Trophy tournament in Nairobi in October 2000, not many gave them a chance of winning the title, least of all India. It was as if the Kiwis would be so pleased to have entered the final of a multi-nation event for the first time; they wouldn't really care if they won.

That turned out to be a miscalculation.

Since that October 15, the one thing no side has taken the Kiwis lightly. If anything, the Black Caps have gained in strength and character over the last two years, as they have given even Australia, the world's best team, a run for its money.

While only a brave man may wager that the Kiwis will win World Cup 2003, no one would collapse of shock if they made it to the last four, accounting for some big names along the way.

___________ Strengths ___________

The New Zealanders have several strengths, but foremost is Fleming's captaincy. Some consider him the finest skipper in the game today, Steve Waugh notwithstanding. The way Fleming routinely out-thought a stronger Australian side in the three Test series in Australia in 2001 -- the Kangaroos narrowly avoided defeat in the final game at Perth and then went on to make the Aussies look ordinary in the one-day triangular series that followed -- was pleasure to watch.

Increasingly, Fleming is marrying his thinking with a readiness to indulge in what Waugh describes as 'mental disintegration.' He gave evidence of this new dimension to his leadership during India's disastrous tour of the Kiwi islands.

A second strength is the Kiwi fielding. The extinct kiwi may have been a flightless bird, but many New Zealanders seem to take flight when they pounce on balls flying past. The catch Jacob Oram took in the first innings of the second Test to dismiss Zaheer Khan is fresh in many minds.

___________ Weaknesses ___________

The batting is a key weakness. Though the team boasts some accomplished batsmen like Nathan Astle, Craig McMillan, and Chris Harris, Fleming's headache is that all of them are either out of form or making a comeback from injury. His match-winner, all-rounder Chris Cairns, is feeling his way back from injury. Fleming too has just started to rediscover form. Unless the top order clicks in a hurry, the New Zealanders may be in real trouble. Depending every time on Oram and Scott Styris to bail them out may not be a bright idea at the World Cup.

___________ Key Players ___________

Nathan Astle with the bat, and occasionally with the ball, can play an important role. If he gives them the explosive starts he is capable of, the Kiwis will look dangerous.

Craig McMillan can demoralize a bowling attack with his vicious hitting. Fleming must pray the middle-order batsman rediscovers form.

Chris Cairns and Chris Harris are two all-rounders who play contrasting styles, but can make the difference between victory and defeat. Cairns, who underwent two knee operations in 2002, will not bowl at the World Cup. The New Zealand selectors have wisely retained him as a specialist batsman. Harris, with his ability to keep the scoreboard moving, his excruciatingly slow bowling, and quicksilver fielding, can turn a game around at any stage, as India rediscovered in the last one-dayer.

Then there is Shane Bond. In less than two years, the express policeman has built up a fearsome reputation. Not only can he hurl the red cherry at speeds of up to 154kph, he does so with deadly accuracy and an ability to effect the breakthrough just when his skipper needs it. With Bond, one wicket can quickly become two or three.

Most important is Fleming who has the remarkable ability to marshal his resources well and call on the right person at the right time more often than not. The Aussies would not have forgotten the way he set fields to each batsman's weakness and then let Bond loose on them. That was only the second time in more than 20 years that the Australians failed to reach the final of a triangular tournament at home.

___________ World Cup 2003 ___________

It's a different matter that after unceremoniously bundling out the Aussies in VB Series 2002, the Kiwis lost rather tamely to the South Africans. At World Cup 2003, the two sides find themselves in the same half of the draw. But the Proteas can be sure that Fleming has done his homework on them this time.

Though many key Kiwi players are out of touch, the lucky thing for the side is they find themselves in the weaker half of the tournament. As a result, qualifying for the Super Six phase should not be difficult. The six games of the first phase should  help them reach some level of consistency.

If that happens, who can say? Surprises are not unknown in cricket.

Previous analysis:
Pakistan - Asif Iqbal
Sri Lanka - Prithviraj Hegde
India - Prem Panicker
Australia - Daniel Laidlaw
West Indies - Ashish Magotra
India's chances rest on fielding - Srinivas Venkataraghavan
Proteas are the pick in Pool B - Srinivas Venkataraghavan

Get Rediff News in your Inbox:
Rajeev Pai