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June 7, 2013
The Champions Trophy has been good for New Zealand. In 2000, when it was still the ICC Knockout, with a view to the funds helping the developing cricket nations, Chris Cairns hit an unbeaten century in Nairobi to lead them to their only piece of global silverware.
They have come close many times since - quarter and semi-finals are a regular place to find New Zealand in global events - and their surge of form ahead of the tournament has belied their No. 8 ranking. All of a sudden the problems in red-ball cricket have been shed. In a competition as short and sharp as the Champions Trophy, hitting form at the right time is key. New Zealand will just hope they haven't peaked early.
Their recent performances against England have reinforced the feeling that New Zealand's slump in one-day cricket before this year had been more surprising than their struggles in Tests. For a format that has often been the lifeblood of New Zealand there have been precious few successes.
Before the impressive 2-1 series win in South Africa earlier this year it had been a barren run in ODIs. Since losing the World Cup quarter-final against Sri Lanka in March 2011 they have won just four matches (until the tour of England) against sides excluding Bangladesh and Zimbabwe and even before that their form was far from flash with a run of 11 defeats in a row including a series loss to Bangladesh.
There are signs that under Brendon McCullum and Mike Hesson, New Zealand have gone back a few generations with the structure of their one-day team. Experienced players, whose careers may have been finished, notably Grant Elliott and James Franklin, have been given another chance while they are trying to nurse Daniel Vettori back although that is proving problematic.
With a strong seam attack and a middle-order featuring McCullum, Ross Taylor and Kane Williamson, plus the career-high form of Martin Guptill, they have the basis for a competitive team. And, really, it would not be a global event without New Zealand in the semi-finals.
There were signs during the Test series against England that Ross Taylor was regaining somewhere near his best form with an aggressive half-century at Lord's and a rearguard effort at Headingley and he grew increasingly fluent in the ODIs which followed. Despite an improvement in the weather, and some flatter pitches, the Champions Trophy is unlikely to be a walk in the park for top-orders so Taylor's role will be two-fold: lay a base for the likes of McCullum below him but also be there himself to take advantage of the last 10 overs.
New Zealand are not short of left-arm pace bowlers. Mitchell McClenaghan has so far been used exclusively in the one-day formats - and with some success. He impressed in South Africa and it was a significant blow when he was injured during England's visit in March. On his return he has been used in a very attacking manner by Brendon McCullum, recalled to target key players in the opposition middle order. He doesn't take a backward step and doesn't mind a few words, either.
New Zealand will cross their fingers that the Champions Trophy marks the arrival of the British summer. When the ball doesn't move their top order is far more comfortable. Swinging conditions could still be their undoing. Although batsmen can get away with a few more edges in one-day cricket and bowlers' spells are rationed, losing early wickets on a regular basis would leave the middle-order a lot of rebuilding to do.
Champions Trophy history
Winners in 2000, New Zealand reached the final last time this tournament was staged during 2009 in South Africa where they lost by six wickets to Australia. Six of the team from that match are in this year's squad. In 2006-07 they also came unstuck against their neighbours, this time in the semi-final, but the last time the competition was in England in 2004 they didn't make the last four - again due to defeat against Australia.
Signs of improvement. The series win in South Africa was an outstanding effort, especially after the humbling in the Tests, but conceding the series against England at home, despite having won the opening game, was a missed opportunity for them. Their response in the recent NatWest Series, though, was emphatic and bodes well for the weeks ahead.
Andrew McGlashan is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfoFeeds: Andrew McGlashan
© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.
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