David Leggat on sport

David Leggat is a Herald sport writer

David Leggat: Kiwis have reason to feel confident

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New Zealand should approach the Champions Trophy with a high degree of optimism.

That's not to say they'll win it. New Zealand's form line has them as good semifinal contenders at International Cricket Council limited-overs tournaments.

They won the Champions Trophy once, in 2000-01, were beaten finalists in South Africa four years ago, were stopped at the semifinal stage in the inaugural world T20 six years and don't even start on the World Cup.

New Zealand tend to get favourable, if vaguely damning mentions in dispatches along the lines of "tough competitors, can upset anyone, good semifinal chance".

So is it to be same old, same old over the next fortnight? There are solid reasons to think they've a decent crack at going beyond the 'sf' expectation.

Tick them off:

They've won their last two biennial ODI series in South Africa and England therefore should feel good about themselves.

They have some cutting edge in the shape of lively Mitchell McClenaghan and a core of experienced bowlers.

They generally field like demons.

In Martin Guptill, Kane Williamson, Ross Taylor and captain Brendon McCullum have players who are capable of high productivity, at a good speed.

And it seems they know their preferred side, so no umming and aahing in deciding on their lineup for the opening game against Sri Lanka in Cardiff tomorrow night.

Guptill was a revelation in the England series. He banished his test mentality, freed the arms, backed himself and got a terrific reward. Sri Lanka will fancy having a crack at him with spin, his Achilles heel.

New Zealand haven't had it easy against the Sri Lankans. They've lost six of their last seven on neutral turf and have been as troubled by round arm hero Lasith Malinga as any team.

Teams know losing the first game in pool play isn't fatal, but things look always better if they don't.

New Zealand have Australia second - and right now they couldn't beat a rug - then tackle England, whose measure they must feel they have. After that, win one game and you're in the final.

Of the rest, Michael Holding reckons his West Indies are a strong chance. He would, of course, but he may be on the mark, as they seem to have most bases covered.

South Africa aren't the same without the reassuring Jacques Kallis and injured Dale Steyn; Pakistan are up and down, albeit dazzling when they're on song; India's batting is powerful, their seam bowling less so; and don't write off England.

So an early thought; the winner to come from West Indies, India or New Zealand.

That, of course, may all change after what should be a fascinating first week of jousting.

- NZ Herald

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