New Zealand look to continue winning streak
After England's ungainly exit from the NatWest Series, Thursday's game between West Indies and New Zealand at the Rose Bowl has turned into a mini-final, and a chance for both teams to win an important psychological victory before the Lord's final on Saturday. Both teams are faced with the option of giving their leading players a rest before the final, or keeping their sides the same to keep their momentum going.
New Zealand are unbeaten in the series so far, and their well-planned, calm approach has had the better of both England and West Indies, but their batting has rested on good performances from a few players, with the likes of Nathan Astle and Craig McMillan remaining unusually anonymous. They have also been helped by the toss, winning it every time, and this has no doubt proved vital to their campaign as the side batting first has not won a single match in this one-day series.
They rested Chris Cairns in their last match against England at Bristol, as he had picked up a few minor injuries. Provided he is fit, this game will give him some valuable match practice, but if he has not fully recovered, New Zealand are unlikely to risk playing him.
Daniel Vettori, after coming back from a hamstring injury, has looked flat in New Zealand's three games so far. He has taken only one wicket - that of James Anderson, England's No. 11, and has often gone for runs. This game will be his last chance before the final to prove he is still a force to be reckoned with, though with his previous record he will probably make the final XI on Saturday whether or not he makes an impact in this match.
After a characteristically inconsistent series, West Indies are starting to come into their own. Chris Gayle in particular has looked better and better with every outing, and he will be a key player both on Thursday and at the final. Apart from the mauling by Andrew Flintoff and Andrew Strauss at Lord's on Tuesday, the bowlers have performed well, and Dwayne Bravo is the tournament's leading wicket-taker. Tino Best, though he gives his all every time he plays, is a little prone to injury and may well be rested for this match. He will be a vital player in the final, and West Indies will be unlikely to risk playing him in this dead rubber.
Dwayne Smith's time at the top of the order has so far proved to be a mistake, but with the pressure off in this match he may finally show what he is capable of. West Indies have no real problems with their batting, except in deciding who will bat where. Gayle has had three different opening partners in four matches, and though Brian Lara has been the only one who has had success, he seems unwilling to stay in the position.
New Zealand will start as favourites in this match, but with West Indies in unpredictable form and riding high from their victory over England, it is sure to be an interesting encounter.
New Zealand (probable) 1 Stephen Fleming (capt), 2 Nathan Astle, 3 Hamish Marshall, 4 Scott Styris, 5 Craig McMillan, 6 Jacob Oram, 7 Chris Harris, 8 Gareth Hopkins (wk), 9 Daniel Vettori, 10 James Franklin, 11 Ian Butler.
West Indies (probable) 1 Chris Gayle, 2 Devon Smith, 3 Ramnaresh Sarwan, 4 Brian Lara (capt), 5 Shivnarine Chanderpaul, 6 Ricardo Powell, 7 Dwayne Smith, 8 Dwayne Bravo, 9 Ridley Jacobs (wk), 10 Ian Bradshaw, 11 Jermaine Lawson.