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History and SA may ruffle Kiwi feathers

Stephen Fleming may well be the best captain at the Cup ? he is a shrewd tactician and has learnt that attack is often the best option in a game of restraint. However, a lot will depend on Chris Cairns? fitness and the Kiwis? ability to come to terms with a poor record in the last four stage.

india Updated: Feb 03, 2003 02:08 IST

If Chris Cairns is fully fit, then New Zealand is a dangerous combination and I can see them reaching the semi-finals. If they advance to this stage during the World Cup, then they could be a big danger to Australia in a sudden-death encounter.

Such a clash could be a big brother - little brother backyard scrap, and even though the bigger and stronger kid usually wins, the younger one with more to prove occasionally springs up a surprise.

If this scrap does materialise, then Stephen Fleming will be a big plus for New Zealand as his captaincy had played a part in eliminating Australia from the VB series last season.

Strengths

Fleming may well be the best skipper at the Cup. He's a shrewd tactician and has learnt that attack is often the best option in a game of containment.

Cairns is an explosive all-rounder who can beat you with both bat and ball.

If he's fully fit to bowl it could make the difference between an average and an outstanding tournament for the Kiwis.

New Zealand have a well-balanced attack that has plenty of variety and is backed up by an athletic fielding.

The batting runs down deep thanks to the presence of all-rounders and the emergence of Brendon McCullum as a capable wicket-keeper-batsman.

Weaknesses

The batting at the top is a bit thin on class. They lack a real match-winner among the front-line batsmen.

New Zealand have never reached the final of a World Cup despite playing in four semi-finals. They have a history of falling short in big tournaments, although their only major accomplishment is a recent one, the 2000-01 ICC Champions trophy.

Men to Watch

If Cairns bowls well, then he will boost the team's confidence enormously. Fleming's captaincy will be good no matter what happens, and if he starts to make runs consistently at the top it will allow explosive players like Cairns more freedom in the middle.

Shane Bond is their only bowler with genuine pace who can remove quality batsmen in the opposition. If his form is good and he takes early wickets, it will lift the rest of the bowling.

Opposition dangers

Anyone can be a danger for New Zealand in the semi-final, given their history.

South Africa always play well against New Zealand and the Kiwis have won only one out of their last eighteen encounters.

The preliminary round match against the West Indies will be tough, as New Zealand do not have a good record against the Carribbeans at the World Cup. If the West Indies are improving, then New Zealand will need to be at their best, as a surprise loss would make qualifying for the Super Six a lot harder.

Intangibles

Any major injury to Cairns, Fleming or Daniel Vettori would be a serious setback because they are the three players for whom New Zealand don't have adequate replacements. How the team will handle expectations this time is going to be a factor. New Zealand are expected to do well at this tournament, whereas in the past, they have entered the World Cup as underdogs.

This is a big tournament for New Zealand as they may never have a better chance to win the World Cup. We will have a better idea of their chances after the preliminary rounds that is, if they beat South Africa and the West Indies, then we will know they are contenders and not just pretenders. (TCM)

First Published: Feb 01, 2003 23:42 IST