David Leggat on sport

David Leggat is a Herald sport writer

David Leggat: NZ in with a chance albeit a small one

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When it comes to winning major cricket trophies, New Zealand's record is weak.

There's been the odd tri-series success but as perennial semi- or quarter-finalists at world events, they'll once again go to an international tournament optimistic. The likelihood is once again, they'll leave the well with bucket empty.

That's not defeatist, simply a reality check ahead of the world T20 championship starting in Sri Lanka next week.

Take away the ICC Knockout tournament in Kenya in 2000, where New Zealand, inspired by a Chris Cairns century, beat India by four wickets in the final, and it's been lean pickings. Which is not to say New Zealand won't be a chance this time around. Consider they will go into the championship ranked fifth - up two spots on the strength of their final-ball win over India in Chennai this week. They have two of the five best-ranked T20 batsmen in Brendon McCullum, who went to No1 yesterday, and Martin Guptill at No5, and the No5-placed bowler, Nathan McCullum.

Whatever your view of rankings, they at least give a worthwhile marker on how players are impacting on games.

New Zealand have a pile of experience, and certainly won't be the longest of shots. Yet that's nothing new. New Zealand have flattered to deceive so often in the past that it's best not to get too excited.

A group of New Zealand players are coming to the end of lengthy careers. Kyle Mills, Jacob Oram, James Franklin and Dan Vettori may have designs on being around for the World Cup in 2015 but they are on the homeward leg.

There is a group in their prime and another who have plenty of years ahead, such as bowlers Tim Southee and Adam Milne and batsman Kane Williamson.

New Zealand field well, bat low down and with purpose, and possess hitters and bowlers who are well versed in the requirements of the 120-ball innings.

The campaign officially starts on Friday night against Bangladesh, but today's warm-up against Australia has real meaning, as does their second preparatory game against South Africa on Monday. Begin as you mean to go on should be the team motto. Mills and Brendon McCullum are likely to sit the Australian game out after their avert-the-eyes collision at Chennai this week.

Coach Mike Hesson has spoken of all 15 players getting a game in those two lead-up matches. For some it will be their one opportunity to impress.

Speaking of opportunities, on Tuesday, a New Zealand A squad laced for past and current internationals, start a five-game series against India A at Lincoln. Test trips to Sri Lanka and South Africa beckon, so there should be no shortage of incentivised players.

If you were New Zealand's opponents in Sri Lanka, you'd be inclined to tread warily. Certainly they'd not be a side the heavy hitters would expect to ease past with some comfort.

Should the group D games against Bangladesh and Pakistan be won, Ross Taylor's men would be entitled to feel good about themselves.

It is a tricky group, Bangladesh are not without a shout in that geographical part of the cricket world; Pakistan have just beaten Australia twice in three games, won the trophy three years ago and have buckets of past form. From there it is a concentrated programme. Momentum will be important. Concentration and setting the pace rather than reacting to their opponents will be important.

Barring a Zimbabwean upset in group C, New Zealand's opening Super Eight opponents will either be the hosts or South Africa. Both will be formidable. Win it, and things could be truly interesting.

- NZ Herald

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