Cricket: Black Caps now Cup contenders?

By David Leggat

How much has New Zealand's World Cup stock risen on the back of yesterday's thumping World Cup win over Pakistan?

Until then, New Zealand had muddled along for the last few months, building up a horrible losing record and arriving at the World Cup seemingly without a prayer, expected to qualify in fourth and last spot from their group, then head home after elimination in the quarter-final.

Now on the strength of their 110-run win at Pallekele they sit top of group A, will beat Canada on Sunday night, leaving only the final game against Sri Lanka to decide their eventual qualifying position.

Win that and New Zealand could qualify first or second from the group.

The bowlers did a solid job. Tim Southee has 10 wickets in the tournament. Only two bowlers have taken more.

The combination, with Jesse Ryder to return for Jamie How, looks better balanced, assuming captain Dan Vettori recovers from his knee injury.

But this win belonged to birthday boy Taylor. "Rose", as a sign read in the stand, made turning 27 a day to remember.

His roar at bringing up his century with one of his seven sixes could have been relief, or delight, a "take that" aimed at his critics, or simply an emotional release at putting a drought of 48 ODI innings without a century behind him.

Among the range of problems New Zealand's ODI side have had of late has been Taylor's lack of runs.

His brutal 131 off 124 balls was his fourth ODI ton but early on, no one would not have given him a prayer of reaching 50, let alone 100.

However, he benefited from a couple of pieces of appalling wicketkeeping by Kamran Akmal, who has considerable form in the matter of dropped catches, before getting to 10.

Taylor stretched out with the bat as if searching for the ball. He edged it, or failed to middle it repeatedly.

"I just tried to guts my way through," Taylor said. "When you are out of nick you need a little luck, and I got that today."

He could have hit out but instead Taylor stuck to his task and finally it came good.

With Nathan McCullum and Jacob Oram plundering late runs at the other end, Taylor, suddenly looking a different man, piled in.

With Oram, Taylor put on 85 from just 22 balls. That adds up to a head-spinning strike rate of 386 per 100 balls, and is the fastest stand of over 50 in ODI history.

New Zealand took a whopping 100 runs from the last five overs, much of which was tripe.

McCullum remains a key batting contributor and Oram's 23 off nine balls graphically demonstrated his late innings hitting value.

But Taylor, once his eye was in, was brutal. It needs to be said he was helped by wretched bowling from Shoaib Akhtar and Abdul Razzaq, who went for 28 and 30 runs off the 47th and 49th overs respectively.

Knee-high full tosses or wide half volleys seemed the order of the moment. Two bowlers with a combined 421 ODIs in careers going back 14 years thus contrived to help Taylor and co put the cherry on top of New Zealand's cake.

Spare a thought for their compatriot Umar Gul, who was outstanding, combining hostility with bowling smarts in taking three for 32 off his 10 overs.

Taylor is in a two-way tussle with Brendon McCullum to succeed Dan Vettori as captain.

This innings should not have a significant impact on that decision, but in time might it come to be seen as a turning of the corner for Taylor?

He has promised so much for several seasons. Akmal gave him a generous helping hand, but now he has to take his chance.

- NZ Herald

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