Cricket: One-day win offers hope for World Cup

By David Leggat

Jesse Ryder of the Black Caps celebrates scoring a century during game six of the one day series against Pakistan.Photo /Getty Images
Jesse Ryder of the Black Caps celebrates scoring a century during game six of the one day series against Pakistan.Photo /Getty Images

The thick fog which had settled over New Zealand's one-day game has lifted, if just a shade.

The 15-man squad is off to India tomorrow to prepare for the World Cup. In itself, the 57-run win over Pakistan at Eden Park on Saturday certainly does not mean they can march down the aisle of their flight chanting, football-style, "Here we go, here we go ..."

Pakistan still won the series 3-2, and deserved it, too.

New Zealand have been in an ODI hole for the last six months, with two wins from the last 16 matches. Despite claims to the contrary one win, after all that's gone before, does not suddenly represent momentum ahead of the tournament.

But the win does allow the players to board the plane with a smile and feeling better about themselves than they did last Thursday night.

That was when they sat in their changing room at Hamilton's Seddon Park for 90 minutes of straight talking after the Pakistan series was lost.

The mood was grim, the players out of sorts with themselves and the selectors, playing dumb cricket and looking about for something to grasp on to and haul themselves up.

"I'm not going talk about what was said in the meeting, but we wanted to improve on our performance on the field, and a few different things off it," stand-in captain Ross Taylor said.

"And I think the team went a long way to achieving how we want to play," he said of Saturday's win. "It's been a tough six months, but to finish on that note is very satisfying."

After a series in which cricket joined rugby in having "rotation" take on grim connotations in this country, New Zealand's plans are now in sharper outline.

The top four can be locked in, barring injuries or significant form slumps.

Martin Guptill will open with Brendon McCullum, with Jesse Ryder the new No 3 - and staying put after his blistering 107 at Eden Park - and Ross Taylor at No 4.

The middle order will comprise Scott Styris, James Franklin, Nathan McCullum and captain Dan Vettori, with Kyle Mills and Tim Southee to lead the new ball attack.

The swingers will be Jacob Oram, whose tight-fisted medium pace should get him a spot once fit again, energetic fast-medium bowler Hamish Bennett and, if they find a dustbowl somewhere on their travels, left arm spinner Luke Woodcock.

Jamie How and Kane Williamson will start the tournament on the bench.

For all that the selectors, Mark Greatbatch, Glenn Turner and Lance Cairns, fancied having a look at Brendon McCullum in the middle order - which didn't work for a range of reasons, and left the player distinctly toey - they'll still have a McCullum to provide impetus in the last 10 overs.

Older brother Nathan's bracing 65 on Saturday was his second half century in three innings and amply demonstrated how he can press the accelerator.

A strong middle-lower order has been a key to some of New Zealand's better ODI periods.

Think back to Jeremy Coney, Richard Hadlee, Ian Smith and John Bracewell of 20-plus years ago. Chris Cairns, Adam Parore and Dion Nash were no slouches a decade back.

Styris, Franklin, who looked the part in India before Christmas, McCullum N. and Vettori, and perhaps Oram, is the latest incarnation.

Bennett topped the wicket takers against Pakistan, for both teams, with an impressive 11 at 20.9. He took the odd beating along the way, which should be put down as a timely early lesson in his development.

Mills re-emphasised that he remains the frontline new ball operator, and the fielding was consistently slick and accurate through the Pakistan series, the strongest part of the New Zealand operation.

So some encouraging signs but there can be no chance of New Zealand getting ahead of themselves just yet.

Three fitness question marks

New Zealand will set off for the World Cup with three fitness question marks among the squad of 15 players.

Captain Dan Vettori sat out the last two ODIs against Pakistan after straining a hamstring in the fourth game in Napier on Tuesday.

Then Jesse Ryder twinged a hamstring during his blockbusting 107 which set up New Zealand's 57-run win at Eden Park on Saturday.

Ryder batted with a runner from 78 onwards and while it limited his movements, he maintained he would be ready for the start of the Cup, with New Zealand's first game on February 20 against Kenya in Chennai.

"It's a slight twinge. I should be fine by the time we get there," Ryder said.

The third of the battling triumvirate, senior allrounder Jacob Oram, was yesterday cleared to travel by New Zealand Cricket's medical staff.

Oram was a late withdrawal from Saturday's game, having picked up inflammation in an ankle shortly before the start.

He had an MRI scan, an x-ray and independent medical assessment yesterday before being clear to leave with the squad tomorrow.

The diagnosis showed no tear or break.

"I developed ankle pain and although it didn't feel serious I wasn't able to bowl without discomfort," Oram said yesterday.

"I've worked hard over the last six months to get fully fit so it is extremely disappointing to pick up another niggle. However, I am confident it isn't too serious and am determined to do everything I can to be fully fit for the first match." Oram is expected to be available for the first of two one-day warmups, against Ireland, also in Chennai next Sunday.

New Zealand's win was just their second in the last 16 ODIs but a substantial step up from earlier in the series, which Pakistan won 3-2, and will be a morale-booster ahead of the cup.

"It's hard to be confident when you've lost so many games in a row," Nathan McCullum said. "But our boys went out and showed a lot of character, fought really hard and got a good result."

It came in no small part to McCullum's late-innings pyrotechnics, as he shared a bristling stand of 120 from only 84 deliveries for the sixth wicket with Scott Styris which propelled New Zealand to 311 for seven.

McCullum's 65 off 50 balls, was his second half-century of the series and amply demonstrated his value. Styris provided 58 not out off 44 deliveries as the pair took the hammer to Pakistan's bowlers, who leaked 72 from the last five overs.

Pakistan gave it a decent crack, with wicketkeeper Kamran Akmal playing a classy, well-paced hand for 89 off 84 balls, but the loss of captain Shahid Afridi at 44 signalled the end.

Still, they'll go into the World Cup happier than they have been for a while.

"We're pretty pleased," coach Waqar Younis said.

"It's a while since Pakistan won anything. Now we've got some momentum going into the World Cup."

- NZ Herald

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