Cricket: Confidence amid the melancholy

By Dylan Cleaver

There is an air of confidence hovering over New Zealand as they slowly gather at the sprawling estate of Sir John Paul Getty to prepare for next month's world Twenty20 championships. Quite why is a difficult question to answer.

As the IPL finishes in a blaze of spandex glory tonight, New Zealand cricket will be able to reflect on a tournament that could not have been scripted worse had Suzy the Waitress turned up at Bangalore's team hotel.

The fact is that these were New Zealand's best players in South Africa. To have any hope of winning the world championships, or even progressing to the semifinals, it is the core of senior players and Jesse Ryder that are going to do the damage.

Casting an eye over their IPL form makes for some melancholic reading.

Daniel Vettori was purring along adequately before Delhi decided to stack their line-up with overseas batsmen - David Warner, Tillakaratne Dilshan, AB de Villiers - meaning Vettori was going up against the bowler of the tournament, left arm quick Dirk Nannes, for the one remaining overseas slot.

Jacob Oram has played okay in patches but has yet to put together a good allround performance.

Scott Styris played the first two games, bowled fairly well, but has ridden the pine since. Kyle Mills went two better than Styris, failing to appear in a single match for the Mumbai Indians.

Brendon McCullum was the only New Zealander to play every match and, to Andy Moles' enormous relief no doubt, started showing signs of life towards the end of Kolkata's miserable tournament.

But perhaps the saddest tale was at Bangalore Royal Challengers, where Ross Taylor, for whom Twenty20 could have been invented, found himself squeezed out by South Africans. Jacques Kallis and even Mark Boucher you could understand, but Roelof van der Merwe?

The pity of it is that Taylor's form lately demonstrated that he was primed for a big tournament.

To cap it all off, to everybody's great sorrow, and not a little frustration, Ryder fell off the wagon after 100 hard-fought days of sobriety.

So why, when the shoulders upon which New Zealand's campaign will live and die will arrive in England largely slumped, is there optimism?

Because the shorter the format, the more even the competition.

Because McCullum, undoubtedly New Zealand's key player, rediscovered his form after weeks of futility. Because Dan Vettori will give you four overs of quality spin. And because Ross Taylor can bat with a strike rate of 200 when the muse strikes.

The wildcard will be Mills. Initially happy to sit out the first few games to fully recover from a nagging knee injury, Mills will have been going stir crazy over the past few weeks.

Moles has told all and sundry that he is unfazed about Mills' lack of game time but in the recesses of his mind he will be wondering what he is going to get from his premier seam bowler. Practice, and practice games, can only do so much. New Zealand will prepare and plan well but the one genuine edge they might have over every team other than South Africa and, possibly, Australia, is fielding, an absolutely crucial component of T20.

But, for all the faith Moles seems to have in his players, you would find it hard to argue against the 10/1 odds being offered by most UK betting agencies on the Kiwis winning.

- Herald on Sunday

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