Every sports team in the world has a unique identity. Like Barcelona are known to be the best football side and Arsenal closely match up with them, the difference only being trophies won. Think Ferrari and you think about Formula One, their identities entwined. It’s true for cricket as well, where almost all its favourite teams are remembered by the fans in their uniqueness - India for their mercurial ways, England for being rank professionals, West Indies for the (erstwhile) joy factor in their play, Sri Lanka for their home record, Australia for being champions, South Africa as chokers and Pakistan as self-destructive. Amidst all this New Zealand are known as the perennial under-achievers.
In long decades of playing international cricket, the 2000 ICC Knock-Out held in Kenya remains their only triumphant moment so far. It is a gross understatement to say then that they could have achieved more, for the harsher truth being that some of the best cricketers have come from within those small beautiful islands. Names like Martin Crowe, Sir Richard Hadlee, Stephen Fleming, Chris Cairns and Daniel Vettori deserve more to show for their efforts on the field. Yet in some strange manner, there is a significant connect between all of them that New Zealand haven’t been able to achieve more than they actually have on.
At no point in time did they boast of a collection of players who were the best in their respective talent-pool and stood shoulder to shoulder to challenge other teams. Hadlee took most of his 400-plus Test wickets alone and Crowe longed for a batting partner who was his equal. The best career phases of Fleming and Cairns almost coincided and perhaps that one piece of silverware reflects on that, but Vettori has been carrying the flag on his own ever since, waiting for Ross Taylor to grow his wares quickly or Brendon McCullum to eventually step up.
The other thing about any member of their team is that they are essentially bits and pieces players, and it is only too true of any of their squads from the past. You remember the names Craig MacMillan or Chris Harris from not so long ago and you see their shades in Jacob Oram and Scott Styris. Jesse Ryder is only a hyped up version of the same. They have their merits and demerits both. For one, you can never be short of balance on the team-sheets for most of them can turn their arms over and contribute useful runs. Perhaps they are short of world class batsmen and bowlers in singularity simply because they have an abundance of all-rounders.
But such talent can only carry you so far. Are any of these players pure batsmen in the classical sense? Where does the consistency and the stability that is so essential in a fifty-overs game nowadays come from? Martin Guptill and Ross Taylor are two names you would want to fill in the blanks here with and it is largely true that the bulk of runs will have to come from their willows if the Kiwis are to make an honest attempt in this tournament. The other essential aspect of the ODI game nowadays is of course the explosive ability of the batting order. In that sense, the McCullum brothers alone provide quite some ammunition with the all-rounders and bowlers who can throw their bats around coming in the picture again.
Yet, despite going through these players one by one, you feel that there is a backbone missing in their line-up. That they are too fragile and can fall apart at any moment! This is not so in respect with their bowling resources for Vettori is quite capable in marshalling his troops around well. Kyle Mills and Tim Southee make for an interesting opening partnership that can test the batsmen with their awkward bounce. They will have ample of it on the sub-continental pitches where batsmen like the ball coming onto the bat. All they have to do is bend their backs a little. Oram, Franklin and Styris will form the second line of attack with their medium pace but the spin department is somewhat weak. Yes, there is Vettori and he will be very tough to get away. But Nathan McCullum and the untested Luke Woodcock will not send shivers down any opposition’s spine.
New Zealand are placed in Group A and to be honest that is quite a stroke of luck. For the other group is the tougher of the two with both Bangladesh and Ireland in there to mix things up a little. It is not to imply that the Kiwis are ready for the drop just yet, but amongst the minnows, no one really expects Zimbabwe, Canada and Kenya to pull off any untoward upsets. New Zealand will only be too happy that they are not facing Bangladesh in the league stages for the blanking they received on their tour here this past winter will still be fresh in their minds. They should easily make the quarterfinals on the basis of beating the minnows alone, even if they can’t get past Australia, Sri Lanka or Pakistan. Beyond that it is anybody’s guess.
Come to think of it, their progress in the tournament will be down to who can step up to the plate, cross that bridge from an also-ran cricketer to a world class player and support skipper Vettori. It will have atleast five players to be from the following bunch: 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 and Luke Woodcock.
© Cricket World 2011