Flying high

Scott Styris topscored with an unbeaten 80.-AP

New Zealand continues to be greater than the sum of its parts. Its preparation is top-notch without being overly theoretical, and it has an astute captain who has seen cricket evolve over nearly 15 years, writes S. Ram Mahesh.

As is so often the case in West Indies cricket, a defeat was made worse by infighting. Former fast bowler and current selector Andy Roberts told local journalists that the selection of the final XI for the Super Eight match against New Zealand puzzled him. He questioned the selection of batsman Lendl Simmons over fast-bowler Jerome Taylor.

"I can't find the words to describe it," he said. "If you play an extra batsman at No. 8, he has to be able to bowl. All I can say is that Simmons must have changed roles since I last saw him."

Captain Brian Lara shot back with, "I can say to Andy Roberts that I did not select this World Cup squad. I was not there in the meeting. The team was selected without me. But I still go out there and fight my very best with the squad given to me."

The extra batsman didn't make a difference as New Zealand coasted to victory after dismissing the West Indies for 177. The win foregrounded the reasons Stephen Fleming's side is special. New Zealand has a small talent pool to tap: yet, the side manages to overcome injury troubles — Mark Gillespie, Daryl Tuffey, Lou Vincent, Ross Taylor in this case — and play above itself.

But, the side is far more than a group of talentless journeymen who fight with everything they have. In Shane Bond, Jacob Oram, Brendon McCullum, Daniel Vettori, and Fleming himself, New Zealand has men who'll get into any other side bar Australia; even with Australia, they'll push the incumbents hard.

Moreover, the team continues to be greater than the sum of its parts. Its preparation — "we have looked at every scenario, some of them twice" (Fleming) — is top-notch without being overly theoretical, and it has an astute captain who has seen cricket evolve over nearly 15 years.

In the Super Eight match against the West Indies, Oram struck after Ramnaresh Sarwan put on 52 with Chris Gayle to take the West Indies through a difficult period. Sarwan was undone by a moment of wicketkeeping brilliance which Fleming called "crucial and very talented".

The delivery from Oram took Sarwan's inside edge. Most 'keepers would have been wrong-footed for the intended stroke was a cover drive. But, McCullum pushed off to his left, his weaker side. He stayed in the air, parallel to the ground, before catching it behind him, one-handed.

The catch embodied everything world-class keeping should be: strong, low movement driven by vision, reflex, and routine before soft hands take over.

Oram and McCullum combined again to dismiss Marlon Samuels. This was a stereotypical Oram wicket — a lifting delivery from back of a length taking splice, handle or glove en route to the 'keeper. The decision wasn't straight-forward for a combination of events clouded matters. Samuels took his bottom hand off the bat, and a blur of movement preceded the appeal. But, Rudi Koertzen held firm.

Having done the hard work, Gayle fell to leave the West Indies at 81 for four. The left-hander had looked determined to make the most of Peter Fulton's early reprieve. But, with a big score in his sights, he chopped Oram on.

One big partnership and two smaller ones will invariably take a side past 177: New Zealand managed it without trouble.

Scott Styris top-scored with an unbeaten 80, which highlighted the difference between the two batting sides.

"We're just not playing well as a team, especially in the batting department," said Lara. "If we are going to win the World Cup it's not just going to be one or two of them, or just me — it has to be the entire team. Our top order needs to bat better, we haven't yet scored 250.

"We seem to be putting the rope around our neck. We haven't played to potential, the guys have to be told that. They need to be reminded why they're here, that they are the best in the West Indies. It's a question of getting back to the basics."

Did he foresee himself going up a notch in the order? "Yeah, why not? I mean, it's (the batting) not happening. All the guys there have said they want the opportunity to bat higher, and when they get runs they say they should be there. So, I've compromised my position.

"But, we're not playing well as a team, batting. These are desperate times. We need to get into the mindset of winning our remaining games."

The win moved New Zealand closer to a semifinal spot. "We think so," said Fleming, when asked about it. "We've got a couple of tricky encounters coming up. We tripped up against Bangladesh in the warm-ups and Ireland have tested Pakistan, but if we continue the way we are, we're not far away. The exciting thing is every side you tick off, you're one place closer to the semifinals."


Super Eight: West Indies v New Zealand. New Zealand won by seven wickets.

West Indies: C. Gayle b Oram 44; S. Chanderpaul c Styris b Bond 4; R. Sarwan c McCullum b Oram 19; M. Samuels c McCullum b Oram 9; B. Lara c McCullum b Styris 37; D. Bravo c McCullum b Bond 18; D. Ramdin c Oram b Vettori 15; L. Simmons (not out) 14; D. R. Smith b Vettori 8; D. Powell lbw b Vettori 0; C. Collymore b Bond 0; Extras (b-1, lb-5, w-3) 9. Total (in 44.4 overs) 177.

Fall of wkts: 1-14, 2-66, 3-78, 4-81, 5-128, 6-150, 7-158, 8-176, 9-176.

New Zealand bowling: Mason 6-2-14-0; Bond 8.4-0-31-3; Franklin 3-0-29-0; Oram 8-2-23-3; Styris 10-1-35-1; D. Vettori 9-1-39-3.

New Zealand: P. Fulton b Powell 0; S. Fleming (run out) 45; H. Marshall c Lara b Powell 15; S. Styris (not out) 80; C. McMillan (not out) 33; Extras (lb-1, w-3, nb-2) 6. Total (for three wkts., in 39.2 overs) 179.

Fall of wkts: 1-0, 2-36, 3-77.

West Indies bowling: Powell 10-2-39-2; D. R. Smith 5-0-24-0; Collymore 9-0-43-0; Bravo 8-0-32-0; Gayle 6.2-0-35-0; Sarwan 1-0-5-0.