Cricket: Team coy on brittle batting

By Andrew Alderson

The psychological damage caused to New Zealand's brittle batting against Sri Lanka yesterday leaves little hope that this team will progress much further in the World Cup.

The batting has perished against two top international sides out of three - Sri Lanka and Australia - at the World Cup.

They were guaranteed a knockout quarter-final even before they took the field on Friday night (NZT) but they are now likely to be faced with another top-line international team - and the lack of momentum derived from the trouncing by Sri Lanka in their final group match is detrimental.

The 112-run loss dented confidence to a point where senior members of the touring party were unwilling to discuss the issues afflicting the team in detail post-match, despite requests. Coach John Wright was only willing to talk after training yesterday. Tim Southee was then put up to the New Zealand media for less than three minutes.

"We can't dwell on it," he said. "We've got to move on with a quarterfinal to play in a few days. I'm sure the guys will learn from it and train better leading to that."

Captain Ross Taylor could not add much more during his nine-minute post-match conference.

"We just kept losing wickets at crucial times. I can't answer it any more than that. We've got a couple of days until we find out who our opponents are and once we know we will start thinking about that.

"I don't think we need to dwell on it too much. It happened and we just have to pick ourselves up and play better than we did."

So there has been little enlightenment from the team on the disappointing finish. Besides, New Zealand Cricket spokesman Ellery Tappin said the players' partners wanted to get back to the hotel as soon as possible, meaning their husbands and boyfriends - professional and highly paid sportspeople that they are - needed to go too. Perhaps it is a case of the dog tailing the wag?

The Black Caps are now likely to face India or South Africa in the last eight.

New Zealand lost to South Africa in their last meeting at the Champion's Trophy in 2009 and were thrashed 5-0 away to India just before Christmas. The West Indies or England, both teams New Zealand has a 4-1 winning record against in their last five ODIs, would have been preferable had they won yesterday.

Fortunately for New Zealand, no team at the tournament looks invincible.

South Africa beat Bangladesh by a staggering 206 runs last night (284 for eight against all out for 78). They top Group B while India and England are guaranteed quarter-final places.

West Indies, who play India today, seem assured of the last place unless they suffer a catastrophic defeat.

The batting is the core issue New Zealand need to address. Coach John Wright's policy of no more than three wickets at the 35-over mark held a certain irony against Sri Lanka with the team being bowled out at that exact point in the innings.

Admittedly Muttiah Muralitharan was in lethal mood, taking four for 25, despite pulling a hamstring batting.

The doosra made a couple of cameos. It gave the impression the Black Caps' past work with Saqlain Mushtaq might only have embedded itself in short-term memory.

Murali has an ODI average of 17.86 against New Zealand - his career average is 23 - so he did not need encouragement to stay out there. There were tentative prods aplenty and all 10 Black Caps' dismissals could be classed as timid.

The reality is the top six batsmen again failed as a group against a top eight test-playing nation.

Take out Martin Guptill's 57 and Ross Taylor's 131 not out versus Pakistan and there has been little for fans to get excited about with the willow.

The bowling was solid and the expected return of skipper Daniel Vettori and veteran Kyle Mills this week will be a boost. Both are crucial for New Zealand to win.

Hamish Bennett injured his left calf muscle after rolling an ankle in his fifth over, Luke Woodcock has been deemed surplus to requirements and Nathan McCullum - useful all-rounder that he is - can only be described as an auxiliary spinner to Vettori.

Holding Sri Lanka to 265 for nine on the Mumbai wicket was meritorious.

Taylor rotated his bowlers well, mostly for two to three-over spells and they produced good length deliveries that gave Sri Lanka little width.

However, the best New Zealand weapon is their fielding which needs to be maintained this week. At times against Sri Lanka, it looked like a Chris Harris Clone XI, such was the energy and accuracy.

A total of 300 would have been threatened were it not for New Zealand's commitment attacking the ball, using tandem pop-up tactics near the boundary, backing up and taking sound catches.

These are predominantly the responsibilities of assistant coach Trent Woodhill, so he can take a bow.

Substitute fielder Jamie How exemplified it with a full length dive running from long off to stop a straight drive.

Aware of the pungent aroma wafting from the sprinklers during the week, he still put his body on the line. If he got any forearm grazes he would have been wise to have whipped out the disinfectant.

In fact, disinfectant might be best for the performance as a whole. Hopefully the team is immune from the same type of batting this week.

- Herald on Sunday

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