New Zealand has multi-dimensional players in its ranks
Stephen Fleming leads a versatile side into the World Cup. This is a team with serious depth and options. And it is running hot.
Can New Zealand triumph in the Caribbean? Can the side retain its consistency and intensity levels at the business end of a long-drawn competition?
Here's an analysis of the side.
Strengths: In Fleming, the side has a captain who reads the game well. Whether managing the overs or setting the field, Fleming gets it right on most occasions. Crucially, he is calm under pressure.
The skipper forms an effective left-right opening combination with a rejuvenated Lou Vincent. Ross Taylor is an exciting shot-maker with a future at No. 3. The experienced Scott Styris handles stressful situations well. The younger Peter Fulton is a fluent customer, and the battle-scarred Craig MacMillan, as the Aussies discovered the hard way, can still be dangerous.
In the second half of the line-up, Jacob Oram (if he regains fitness) is a feared striker. Both Brendon McCullum and the left-handed Daniel Vettori can innovate. The side has the batsmen for, both, the Power Play and the end overs.
Importantly, the side bats deep. Chasing a mammoth 346 in the Hamilton one-dayer against the Aussies, New Zealand was 41 for four, before it recovered to clinch a humdinger.
In conditions likely to assist reverse swing, Shane Bond could be lethal. That he can send down telling outswingers with the new ball reflects his ability. Wily left-arm spinner Vettori can peg back the run-rate in the middle overs.
In medium pacers Styris and McMillan, the Kiwis have part-time bowlers who can deny the batsmen pace.
The side has multi-dimensional cricketers, fields and runs between wickets brilliantly, and adapts better than most people believe.
Weaknesses: The side depends too heavily on Bond, its only strike bowler. And the Kiwi spearhead is prone to injuries. Oram enters the competition under a fitness cloud (broken finger). Apart from being a key man in the late middle-order, Oram's medium pace the tall man bowls an off-stump line and extracts bounce adds much to the attack. The side is not without variety, given that Vettori and paceman James Franklin are both left-armers. However, Mark Gilliespie's lively pace and the ability to bowl at the death are still untried on the mega stage. So is Jeetan Patel's off-spin. Specialist pacemen Darryl Tuffey and Michael Mason have the accuracy, but not speed.
New Zealand nailed two 300-plus chases against Australia at home in the Chappell-Hadlee series. But then, the Kiwis stumbled while chasing 270 against England in the last league game of the Commonwealth Bank tri-series. This was a game where the pacing of the innings, particularly in the middle overs, was awry. The pressures of a do-or-die game in a tournament can be different from a bilateral series. The side, despite four semifinal appearances, has never progressed to the World Cup final.
Opportunities: A maiden World Cup title should be the greatest motivator. Succeeding on pitches that could be lacking in pace would also be a challenge. The Champions Trophy (then ICC Knockout) triumph in Kenya (2000) remains the side's only major conquest. That was a tournament where the pitches were on the slower side.
Threats: The Kiwis have been grouped with England, Kenya, and Canada. The matches will be at St. Lucia, where the surfaces (before relaid) were sluggish.
England holds a psychological edge over the Kiwis. And Kenya, the strongest of the non-Test playing nations, is no pushover. In the Super Eight stage, every team is a threat.