The team to be respected and feared

Luke Ronchi’s swanky unbeaten 170 against Sri Lanka at Dunedin, after his team was placed precariously at 93 for five, is the type of knock the New Zealand batsmen in the top-, middle- and lower-order are capable of playing. Coming in to bat at No. 7, Ronchi displayed his wares (14x4 and 9x6) on January 23, 2015, and such instances of daredevilry make New Zealand a dangerous side and a potential World Cup winner.

Captain Brendon McCullum (117 off 99 balls against Sri Lanka in Hamilton, January 2015), Corey Anderson (131 not out against West Indies in Queenstown, January 2014) and Grant Elliott (104 not out against Sri Lanka at Dunedin, January 2015) are all capable of playing big innings. Add to it the consistency and class of Ross Taylor and Kane Williamson, and the rival bowlers could be in for some rough treatment in the World Cup. Martin Guptill can play the anchor as well as the demolisher.

New Zealand, which has a flattering record in the World Cup with six semifinal appearances, will be a force to reckon with. The team plays all its league matches at home, beginning with the game against Sri Lanka at Hagley Oval, Christchurch. New Zealand has a 5-1 record in Christchurch, and on January 11, 2015, it defeated Sri Lanka by three wickets at the same venue.

The McCullum-led team’s second match of the World Cup will be against Scotland at Dunedin, followed by games against England, Australia, Afghanistan and Bangladesh. Given the team’s form, it is certain to advance to the quarterfinals.

New Zealand would hope to run into top form against Sri Lanka and Scotland; the matches should help the team prepare for the tough encounters against England (in Wellington) and Australia (Eden Park, Auckland). And the matches against Afghanistan and Bangladesh would help New Zealand fine-tune its game before the first knockout match.

While the New Zealand batting generally revolves around seasoned campaigners such as (Brendon) McCullum, Taylor, Williamson, Guptill and Elliott, players like Anderson and Ronchi bring aggression.

New Zealand will be keen to get over a major hurdle, against England, at ‘Windy Wellington’. The home team’s batsmen will have to match their wits against some skilful and smart bowling.

Australia has dominated the Trans-Tasman rivalry, winning 30 of the 46 matches played in New Zealand. At the Eden Park in Auckland — where the two teams clash in the league stage of the World Cup — Australia has won 11 matches and lost five, including the match in the 1992 World Cup. “We love to play the Aussies,” said former New Zealand captain John Wright.

In a two-group format with weak teams also thrown in, New Zealand, with an excellent competition record, may find hurdles on way to the quarterfinals, but as Rahul Dravid said recently, four or five teams have qualities to deliver in the knockout rounds and New Zealand should fancy its chances. The conditions in Wellington, Dunedin and Christchurch would offer much for the seamers, but Auckland, Hamilton and Napier should favour the batsmen.

The New Zealand selectors have not ignored the claims of spinners; McCullum will have at his disposal the experienced left-arm spinner Daniel Vettori and off-spinners Nathan McCullum and Kane Williamson to deploy on slow surfaces. The seam attack will be in the hands of Tim Southee, Kyle Mills, Mitchell McClenaghan, Tim Boult, Adam Milne and Corey Anderson.

Martin Crowe’s team won seven matches in a row in the 1992 World Cup before it was humbled by Pakistan twice in a row (Christchurch and Auckland). Stephen Fleming’s team won five consecutive matches in the 2003 World Cup in South Africa and six in the 2007 World Cup in the West Indies.

Therefore, New Zealand, playing in its backyard, will be the team to be respected and feared.

* * * ADVANTAGE OF POWER HITTING

New Zealand's biggest advantage going into the World Cup at home is clearly the rise of Corey Anderson and Luke Ronchi as batsmen talented enough to cause mayhem in the opposition bowling. The two have already demonstrated their power hitting, and in a competition like the World Cup, if they click against England or Australia in a crucial match, it would lift the con?dence levels of the team.

Anderson (36 wickets at 27.97) has also bowled at a pace that has resulted in the downfall of some top order batsmen. Similarly, Kane Williamson's off-breaks could come in handy.

A team that generally plays fearless cricket, New Zealand has choked in the face of some probing seam bowling. Australia and England have the resources to outsmart the New Zealand batsmen.

* * * PLAYERS TO WATCH

Brendon McCullum: With an experience of 248 matches, the New Zealand skipper is expected to lead from the front and set an example. He has scored 5480 runs (?ve centuries and 27 half centuries) in ODIs. Moreover, he is leading a group that is beginning to show clear signs of playing positive cricket.

Ross Taylor: He has scored 4913 runs (138 innings) in ODIs, and is the leading century-maker with 12 hundreds. Taylor has been quite successful batting at No. 4 (100 innings, 3996 runs, 10 centuries and 24 half-centuries for an average of 46.46), and that makes him the linchpin of New Zealand. Since January 2014, he has played 21 innings and scored 995 runs at 62.18 with four centuries and ?ve half-centuries.

Corey Anderson: He has been New Zealand's most impressive bowler since January 1, 2014; he has taken 28 wickets at 28.92 with one four-wicket and one ?ve-wicket hauls. Anderson and Mitchell McClenaghan have been the most successful bowling combination for New Zealand in the said period.

Daniel Vettori: The leftarm spinner's economy rate of 2.75 against Sri Lanka at Dunedin on January 25, 2015 should be happy news for skipper Brendon McCullum. Vettori has played only 11 matches since January 2014, but his skill on slow tracks would be extremely useful to New Zealand. He has taken 114 wickets at home, and that is some achievement for a spinner.

* * * THE TEAM

Brendon McCullum (captain), Corey Anderson, Trent Boult, Grant Elliott, Martin Guptill, Tom Latham, Mitchell McClenaghan, Nathan McCullum, Kyle Mills, Adam Milne, Luke Ronchi (wicketkeeper), Tim Southee, Ross Taylor, Daniel Vettori and Kane Williamson.

G. Viswanath