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Brittle top order concerns New Zealand's Aberhart

The form and confidence of New Zealand's top order batsmen is of most concern to coach Denis Aberhart as his team prepares for the World Cup.

india Updated: Jan 29, 2003 23:09 IST

The form and confidence of New Zealand's top order batsmen is of most concern to coach Denis Aberhart as his team prepares for the World Cup.

Another problem is whether the team can overcome security worries and play against Kenya in Nairobi.

While New Zealand gained momentum from a 5-2 series win over India in a one-day series just completed, the low-scoring nature of those matches highlighted a crisis of form among some of the leading players.

Aberhart said he had "no specific concerns" with his batsmen's technique or approach and backed them to find more consistent form in favorable batting conditions in South Africa.

But he was concerned the Indian series, which was dominated by bowlers, hadn't been an ideal Cup preparation. New Zealand managed a highest score in seven matches of 199 and averaged only 15.3 runs per wicket.

Only four New Zealand batsmen scored half centuries and Matthew Sinclair's 78 was its top score. Sinclair accumulated only 146 runs in seven innings, captain Stephen Fleming 157 runs from seven turns at bat, Nathan Astle 123 runs in five matches and Chris Cairns 19 runs in three.

Craig McMillan scored 31 runs in four matches with a top score of 22 before being sent back to domestic play to find better form. "Obviously the better the frame of mind our batsmen are in, the better for the team," Aberhart said.

"Mental attitude depends on results and confidence and the confidence of some of our batsmen might not be that high. But I know our batsmen are capable of much better and we may see that from them in more suitable batting conditions in South Africa." The game in Kenya presents a different problem altogether. A terrorist bomb attack in Mombasa last November has sparked concerns about whether the country is safe enough to handle the two World Cup games against New Zealand Feb. 21 and Sri Lanka three days later.

The Kiwis have expressed concerns about playing the game while those in charge of security in Nairobi say they will be safe. Meanwhile, the poor form of the New Zealand and Indian teams in two tests and seven one-day internationals this summer has been blamed on poor pitches, affected by a wet, El Nino-style summer. Aberhart said the fact New Zealand had been able to beat India in conditions which disadvantaged both teams should be a source of encouragement.

"India are one of the best teams in world cricket and we managed to beat them in conditions which didn't suit either team," Aberhart said.

"We're aware that we have a lot of work still do but we take heart from the fact that the job ahead of India is so much greater than ours.

"We've taken a bit of confidence from having won the games against India but we have to keep in mind the conditions we've been playing in are not like South Africa and our batsmen are not quite in the form we would hope."

New Zealand captain Stephen Fleming, whose own form had been poor until he managed an unbeaten 60 in the last match of the Indian series, said his players had to believe in themselves. "We've beaten a very good side in tough conditions and there's no reason on better conditions why we can't improve a lot more," he said.

"I'll probably get criticized for it tomorrow but I believe in this group of guys, and that's what's going to win us the World Cup. "I'm talking about belief. We've got a good side and I'm going to keep talking them up."

Aberhart said South African conditions, which might advantage batsmen, would also pose a challenge of acclimatization. "The problem from a batting point of view is that when you get on better wickets, innings are typically longer and you have to exercise patience," he said.

"The important thing in those conditions is to be patient and work hard."

New Zealand has two warm-up matches scheduled in South Africa, at Soweto and Benoni, before playing its first World Cup match against Sri Lanka on Feb. 10.

New Zealand's injury worries seem to have lessened. There were concerns about all-rounders Cairns and Joseph Oram, batsman Nathan Astle and fast bowler Shane Bond, but all players should be fit to travel, Aberhart said.

While the confidence of the batsmen had been bruised by the Indian series, New Zealand's bowlers had been spurred by their success. Andre Adams took 14 wickets at an average of 9.35 and Daryl Tuffey, New Zealand's International Cricketer of the Year, 12 wickets at 18.0.

Cairns, who is returning from injury, may not bowl in South Africa but can play as a specialist batsman. New Zealand will depend heavily in those circumstances on Bond, it's fastest bowler, and the improving Tuffey.

Veteran Chris Harris provides slow variation. Adams is a brisk and reliable player who can bowl through the middle of the innings or at the death, and Daniel Vettori provides the spinning option.

First Published: Jan 29, 2003 23:09 IST