Cricket: Team look to World Cup

By Andrew Alderson

The Black Caps could field seven bowlers, of whom only two would be pacemen, in the series against India starting tomorrow.

Behind this selection is the World Cup - not three months from now. New Zealand approaches the present series with three things in mind: to put their atrocious form against Bangladesh aside; to rebuild towards the World Cup; and to test their side's likely structure.

The squad has significant changes from the team that lost the series 4-0 last month in Dhaka - but it is still unlikely to resemble the side which will play at the World Cup, let alone against Pakistan in January.

The Indian matches give the Black Caps a further chance to acclimatise to subcontinental conditions. By series' end, they will have played 14 one-day internationals there over four months. So far they have won one of nine with two no results.

Two crucial World Cup components are missing from this mix. Jacob Oram continues to recover from his knee injury and is hoping to return for the latter part of the one-day series against Pakistan.

Jesse Ryder's calf strain means he is out for at least a fortnight, but he hopes to rejoin the international fold for the Boxing Day Twenty20.

Both would be automatic selections if fit. Oram's tight medium-pace bowling is bolstered by strong middle order batting when he opens his hip, plonks his front foot down and takes attacks apart.

Ryder's explosive batting, opening with Brendon McCullum, must deliver if New Zealand are to create history by progressing beyond the World Cup semifinals for the first time. Ryder's bowling on slower wickets is also helpful.

He is part of a cast re-enacting the Dibbly, Dobbly, Wibbly and Wobbly formation (Gavin Larsen, Chris Harris, Willie Watson and Rod Latham) at the 1992 World Cup. This year's vintage could consist of Ryder, Oram, Scott Styris and Grant Elliott - bowlers who can produce deliveries slightly short of a length, taking the pace off and being difficult to score off.

While the subcontinent is understood to be under ICC instruction to liven up their wickets, bowlers who make batsmen force the ball will still be in demand.

The absence of Oram and Ryder poses two selection conundrums against India.

The first: who is suited to batting at first drop when Ryder or McCullum is dismissed? Jamie How and Martin Guptill will contend for that World Cup role.

With Aaron Redmond and BJ Watling dropped after Bangladesh, How and Guptill have piqued the selectors' interest, unless a surprise can be unearthed in the HRV Cup or domestic one-day competition.

How was in good form in the Champions League and on the Zimbabwe A tour. Guptill has been given a reprieve after dipping from a stellar run at the start of his career when he was named in the ICC's one-day team of the year last year.

The second conundrum: Who bats at six (or seven)? Kane Williamson has shown his talent and, significantly, is yet to bat for the Black Caps on a pitch outside the subcontinent.

But Grant Elliott's medium pace has proven useful for New Zealand in his 35 matches - he has 19 wickets at an average of 21.73. Elliott has also been consistent in the middle order. Of his 26 innings, he has made a score of 18 or better 14 times.

In 10 innings at test and one-day level, Williamson is yet to make a score between 13 and 69, indicating a tendency to 'get in' or get out. If those two are kept - with Williamson as an extra off-spin option - then Nathan McCullum could be forced out, depending on form.

James Franklin will have to seize any chance. While he provides a left-arm variation, Andy McKay might assume that role with his extra pace.

Franklin's superb batting at domestic level hasn't translated to the international game. Oram and Styris offer more consistent options in big matches.

Another by-product from the current selection puzzle is who makes up the remainder of the pace attack. The slower, lower wickets expected for the World Cup indicate the spin of all-rounders Daniel Vettori and McCullum will be handy.

That presents the possibility of just two pace bowlers in a seven-bowler team, with the two spinners and Dibbly, Dobbly, Wibbly and Wobbly.

Kyle Mills' one-day record means he will probably be one while McKay, Tim Southee, Daryl Tuffey and a fit-again Hamish Bennett could contest the other spot.

McKay and Bennett are the fastest, Tuffey has the most sub-continent experience and Southee has shown a knack for swinging the ball and bowling at the death which can't be ignored.

The Gautam Gambhir-led Indian side is weakened without usual skipper Mahendra Singh Dhoni, Sachin Tendulkar, Harbhajan Singh, Virender Sehwag and possibly Zaheer Khan for the five-match series.

But the one-dayers will be meaningful if they assist the team three months from now.

Possible team against India: Brendon McCullum, Jamie How, Martin Guptill, Ross Taylor, Scott Styris, Kane Williamson, Grant Elliott, Daniel Vettori, Nathan McCullum, Kyle Mills, Daryl Tuffey/Andy McKay/Tim Southee.

Possible World Cup team: McCullum, Jesse Ryder, How, Taylor, Styris, Williamson/Elliott, Jacob Oram, Vettori, McCullum, Mills, Tuffey/McKay/Southee.

- Herald on Sunday

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