New Zealand are squarely in the rugby spotlight, but for how much longer that remains the case will be seen early tomorrow and, by extension, over the coming fortnight.

For sure, the sooner the quarter-final is over the better for those fans of a queasy disposition and an eye on World Cup history.

Four days after the cup final, New Zealand cricket will take the national game's place in the country's sporting interests. The first test against Australia starts on November 5. Anticipation is high.

There are two other test series on now, in Sri Lanka where the West Indies are touring, and in the United Arab Emirates, with England squaring off against the de facto home team, Pakistan.


Hanging over all cricket, though, is the dark stain of the Chris Cairns perjury trial in London with New Zealanders heavily involved, not only as defendant but also on the witness list.

The testimony, the exchanges, make riveting reading, if ghastly for those who hold the game dear.

There have been other momentous events, other court cases, but, certainly in New Zealand eyes, this must be the worst of times.

On purer cricket matters, the opening Pakistan-England test in Abu Dhabi has thrown up two exceptional performances - three if you include Shoaib Malik's double century.

Alastair Cook's 28th test hundred, easily an England record, enhances his case as his country's best test batsman, but that depends how you define "best".

He's England's highest test runmaker, will become the 12th player to 10,000, perhaps even by the end of this series.

Then there's the ageless Younis Khan, who passed the legendary Javed Miandad on the first day of this test to become Pakistan's alltime top scorer, with 8852. He got there in eight fewer innings than the great Karachi scrapper.

Only two batsmen, among the 10,000-plus club have a better average than Younis' 53.97, Kumar Sangakkara's 57.4 and Jacques Kallis at 55.37. Younis' numbers brook no argument that he should sit among the game's finest batsmen.


Which brings the mind to New Zealand's best.

Kane Williamson and Ross Taylor are in possession of the two best averages for New Zealanders with 20 or more tests (John F. Reid got his runs at 46.28 in 19 matches).

With averages at 45.7 and 44.99 respectively, they will lead New Zealand's batting group against Australia. Taylor has 12 centuries, Williamson 10, both expected to chase down Martin Crowe's national record of 17 in time.

New Zealand need these two batsmen on song if they are to fulfil what would be the substantial achievement of a second series win in Australia.

After all, Australia may be preparing to field a team shorn of a core of experienced players but they're not going to be pushovers and with young, thrusting players getting a chance, is sure to be a stiff assignment.

Still, if Williamson and Taylor are able to push each other to greater heights, there can only be one beneficiary.

It's a prospect to relish and something to take the mind off far less palatable matters elsewhere.