Fleming eyes winner-take-all against Australia
Stephen Fleming has insisted that New Zealand can take out Australia, and book a place in the final four of the ICC Champions Trophy, when the two teams clash at The Oval next Thursday. Fresh off a 210-run rout of the USA, Fleming said that his team - which kept Australia out of the VB Series final in 2001-02 by beating them three times out of four - had a plan to thwart the best that cricket has to offer.
"What your preparation does is give you an awareness of where to strike and what to strike at," he said. Agence France Presse also quoted him as saying, "What we will be looking to do is get the game into a scenario that fits our side. And then just try to take them in areas where they aren't as comfortable as when they're playing well."
Fleming said his team wouldn't shy away from the challenge, despite the fact that Australia have dominated the rivalry in recent times. "We're looking forward to it, we've been thinking about this one for quite some time," he said. "It's about being smart. One thing we do know, you've got to compete 100 overs. We've had them on the rack before but they've squirmed away. We know it's going to be a hundred-over affair if we're going to win it."
New Zealand were briefly in trouble with the bat on Friday, slipping to 43 for 2 before Nathan Astle took the match away from the unfancied USA team with a blistering 145. "We're not totally happy with our performance, our batting performance was fumbled," said Fleming. "That's one area against Australia where you've got to be top drawer and turn half-chances into chances to win the match.
"We expect them to be at top form, anything less is a bonus. Their strength is their all-round qualities. Andrew Symonds is playing extremely well at the moment, but any one of their players can win the game hands down on their own."
The Champions Trophy is the one tournament where New Zealand can claim greater success than their trans-Tasman rivals, having won it in 2000. And Fleming reckoned that both teams would be equally motivated with a semi-final spot against England or Sri Lanka at stake.
"I love it but they're always up for it as well," he said. "Shane Warne always talks about New Zealand lifting their game when they play Australia and we do, because we're measured at home by our success against Australia."
As for the USA, Richard Staple, the captain, refused to be too downcast. "If we have a reasonably good performance against the world champions, I'm pretty sure it will do a lot of positives for cricket in the US," he told AFP. "Against Australia, obviously it will be a real challenge but it's something we have to do and give it our best.
"It's going to be tough but we'll do the best we can and come out on a positive note."
Just being here is some achievement. The USA made it by winning the ICC Six Nations Challenge in Dubai six months ago, beating out competition from the likes of the Netherlands, Canada, the UAE and Namibia, all of whom have previously played in the World Cup.