Low in confidence

Scott Styris... at 35, he is a force to reckon with. His controlled medium pace and gusty middle-order batting will be vital for New Zealand.-K. BHAGYA PRAKASH

The Kiwis are in the midst of a horror run, winning just two of their last 16 matches, and are lacking in star presence, but progress to the quarterfinals should still be on the cards. By Raakesh Natraj.

New Zealand's World Cup preparation had a decidedly forgettable ring to it. After Bangladesh blanked the Kiwis 4-0 in October, coach Mark Greatbatch's assessment was simply that New Zealand “played like d….” Little has changed since then, as the team was handed a 5-0 thrashing in India.

“I don't believe the team is stable and I don't believe the selectors know what their best side is yet. I don't think they've got the batting order correct with the best players in their best positions,” said Brendon McCullum after the loss.

Playing at home made no difference to New Zealand's fortunes, as a Pakistan side, beset by off-field issues, still managed a 3-2 win.

The results and McCullum's comments not withstanding, the selectors have zeroed in on the personnel for most roles. Identifying the men for the job is just half the work done and New Zealand, more than any other team, will realize this.

The top order, after much experimentation, has been settled upon, with Martin Guptill, Brendon McCullum, Jesse Ryder and Ross Taylor expected to start. Apart from Taylor, the rest have been inconsistent at best and inadequate otherwise.

Brendon McCullum averages 21.88 in 20 matches this year while Jesse Ryder has played just seven matches in the same period and batted with a runner towards the end of the Pakistan series.

Jamie How, the other contender for a top-order slot, has a meagre average of 12.85 in his eight matches in the lead up to the Cup and his presence in the squad is an indicator of how stretched the resources are in the Kiwi camp.

If the numbers seem bleak, the injury situation, which leaves three players doubtful, is hardly encouraging. Apart from Ryder's niggle, the side will also be bothered by captain Daniel Vettori missing out on the last two ODIs against Pakistan with a hamstring strain while Jacob Oram, just back from an injury lay-off, developed an inflammation in his ankle.

All-rounders, a traditional source of cheer for New Zealand, will be key in giving the side balance and flexibility. This department will be serviced by Scott Styris, James Franklin, Oram, Vettori and Nathan McCullum.

Styris at 35, is still the premier occupant of the slot with his gusty middle order batting and controlled medium pace. The off-spinner McCullum has also wielded the long handle with good effect, as he demonstrated with two half centuries against Pakistan.

With Tim Southee and Hamish Bennett (11 wickets at 20.9 against Pakistan) finding their range against Pakistan, the new ball department has been finalised too.

The Kiwis are in the midst of a horror run, winning just two of their last 16 matches, and are lacking in star presence, but progress to the quarterfinals should still be on the cards. The competition for the fourth spot in the group is likely to be between the Kiwis and one of Zimbabwe, Kenya and Canada, and barring major upsets, New Zealand's relative experience and the strength of its all-rounders should see them through to the next stage.

THE SQUAD