Cricket: A 50-50 chance against the event's big shots

By David Leggat

By rights New Zealand should have little chance against Australia in their first serious World Cup clash in Nagpur tonight.

Players' minds are likely to be, at least partly, on events in Christchurch. They've not been in flash form anyway, and key support staff have headed home to Christchurch.

Hardly the ideal leadup for a game against the opponents they most relish beating.

And yet, it's hardly among the more daunting lineups Australia have fielded in recent years, and - a 6-1 drubbing of England notwithstanding - they're not exactly in tip-top shape themselves.

So New Zealand will start the contest feeling they are a 50-50 proposition in what has been turned into a Chappell Hadlee Trophy ODI, in light of the earthquake and the ties between the nations at times of tragedy in which both nations have lost lives.

It will be their only ODI of the year - save the unlikely event of meeting again in the final on April 2 - and given the backdrop it is a logical decision.

Australia hold the trophy after their 3-2 series win in New Zealand last year.

New Zealand's physiotherapist Dayle Shackel and fitness trainer Bryan Stronach have departed for Christchurch and coach John Wright and manager Dave Currie have been trying to find short term stand-ins.

"We think we are fine. If there is a need they [Australia] would provide the support," Currie said.

Both teams have had an easy win over a lightweight nation so far, Australia cleaning up Zimbabwe by 91 runs while New Zealand walloped Kenya by 10 wickets a couple of nights earlier.

What was learnt from those games? Not that much.

From New Zealand's perspective Hamish Bennett took his chance impressively with four for 16, while senior seamer Kyle Mills rested a sore back.

Of those in the yellow kit, Shane Watson and Michael Clarke got among the runs, while captain Ricky Ponting's mood - not at its most even since the Ashes started to head north - remains distinctly lively.

He has been reprimanded over an incident with a television set in the Australian dressing room, which was damaged by Ponting on his return from being run out by a spectacular direct throw from Chris Mpofu in the Zimbabwe game.

"Ricky knows that his action was in breach of the code, involving a brief moment of frustration," International Cricket Council match referee Roshan Mahanama said.

"That said, it was clear that the damage he caused was purely accidental and without malice, he apologised shortly after the incident at the ground and immediately agreed to pay for the damage." Australia, who lost both warm-up games to India and South Africa, have hinted that pace is their intended ace, with Brett Lee, Shaun Tait and Mitchell Johnson backed to do the job in the absence of really top-class spin options.

There is also the notion doing the rounds across the Tasman that they'll settle for totals of about 260 or above, preserving wickets early to make sure they have a solid total to defend, rather than engaging in a headlong rush for somewhere over 300 as a minimum.

Australia are also protecting a 30-game unbeaten World Cup record, built over their past three successive victories in the event.

Had New Zealand batted first against Kenya - they didn't have a choice - more players would at least have had some action.

Their big decision will be whether to stick with young thruster Bennett, who is lively, gets wickets (18 in nine games at 17.72 apiece) but can be pricey; or bring back Mills, whose record is impressive (126 games, 186 wickets at 26.47), is good at the start, but can be expensive at the death.

New Zealand have targeted wins in two of their three games against the better group A nations, Australia, Pakistan and Sri Lanka, to get a better position, that is, a lesser opponent, for the quarter-finals.

So the serious part of that equation starts tonight.

Players from both teams are likely to wear black armbands during the match.

NEW ZEALAND V AUSTRALIA

New Zealand: Dan Vettori (c), Brendon McCullum, Martin Guptill, Jesse Ryder, Ross Taylor, Scott Styris, James Franklin, Nathan McCullum, Jacob Oram, Tim Southee, Kyle Mills, Hamish Bennett, Luke Woodcock, Kane Williamson, Jamie How.

Australia: Ricky Ponting (c), Shane Watson, Brad Haddin, Michael Clarke, Cameron White, David Hussey, Callum Ferguson, Steven Smith, Mitchell Johnson, John Hastings, Jason Krejza, Brett Lee, Shaun Tait, Doug Bollinger, Tim Paine

New Zealand v Australia
Overall: P 123, W 34, L 84, N/R 5
At World Cup: P 7, W 2, L 5

Nagpur, 10 tonight, live on SS2

- NZ Herald

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