World Cup 2015 January 27, 2015

Depth and balance in New Zealand squad, say Smith and Dravid

ESPNcricinfo staff

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New Zealand no dark horse this time

Former South Africa captain Graeme Smith believes New Zealand's World Cup 2015 squad has "more strength" in both the batting and bowling departments that it did in previous editions of the tournament, giving them a greater chance of success this time. Smith was speaking on Contenders, ESPNcricinfo's World Cup 2015 preview show. Smith's co-panelist on the show, former India captain Rahul Dravid, agreed with him, tagging New Zealand as "serious contenders" for the title.

"They have [Daniel] Vettori back in the spin department, and with [Tim] Southee, [Trent] Boult, [Mitchell] McClenaghan and [Kyle] Mills they have a solid pace attack," Smith said. "If you look at their batting you have Brendon McCullum, Kane Williamson and Ross Taylor, who are three outstanding batters. I think those three guys can certainly take the game away."

Dravid agreed with Smith about the depth of New Zealand's pace attack giving them a distinct edge over other teams. "They've got different combinations and different kinds of skills in that fast-bowling department," Dravid said. "They have some good death bowlers, someone like a Tim Southee has bowled well in the death, Boult has bowled well in the death. So I think they've got a really, really good pace attack. That's why you look at them and you think these guys are one of the serious contenders."

New Zealand have a history of doing well in World Cups, having made six semi-finals in ten tournaments so far. One of those semis was in 1992, when, like this time, New Zealand were co-hosts. Dravid believes that unlike fellow hosts Australia, New Zealand will not be under as much pressure from fans to claim the trophy. That, he said, could work to New Zealand's advantage.

"Australia has a great history in World Cups, there is an expectation as soon as Australia go out that anything less than winning is not good enough," Dravid said. "I think with New Zealand, it's a much smaller country, sure they'll expect their team to do well but you're not going to talk about winning straightaway. I think the pressure is going to be less on the New Zealand players, it's probably going to be more of a celebration of their team and of the game and of the World Cup. And I think that momentum will carry them."

Smith said New Zealand will also enjoy the benefits of a settled captain in McCullum, under whom the team has put in strong performances across formats over the last year. "I really like McCullum as captain," Smith said. "I think he's doing a great job, he's brought a new dynamic into that side, a little bit of steeliness and creativity, and his own batting seems to have gone up a notch since he's got the captaincy. Which is exciting for New Zealand. He's a real game-breaker."