ICC Cricket World Cup 2011 / Features
Australia v NZ, Group A, World Cup 2011, Nagpur
New Zealand aim to rise above tragedy
Friday's World Cup clash against Australia will be more than just a game for New Zealand: it will be their chance to bring cheer to a nation in mourning
Nagraj Gollapudi in Nagpur
February 24, 2011
The big question for New Zealand is: how do the players forget the trauma and suffering of their people back home in the aftermath of the catastrophe in Christchurch? Cricket can act as a distraction for a while, but how can John Wright, Hamish Bennett or Brendon McCullum (they live in Christchurch) or for the matter the rest of the squad, who have friends and relatives in the affected zone, entirely rid themselves of painful thoughts and instead create a competitive bubble to operate in? No one can be that numb.
Yet Friday's contest could probably put New Zealand back in the right frame of mind because they have always managed to pick themselves up and bring their best game to the table when playing their arch rivals. The teams will also be contesting for the Chappell-Hadlee trophy and this will up the intensity for them as both Australia and New Zealand have always scrapped hard in the bilateral affair. Not to forget, New Zealand have a score to settle, having lost the trophy 2-3 at home last year.
Little wonder that there was a renewed sense of purpose about New Zealand's training on Thursday. Even the absence of two key members from the support staff - their physiotherapist and trainer - did not deter them as both players and the coaching staff joined hands to fill the void. It did not matter that New Zealand's resources looked depleted as compared to those of Australia, who had eight support staff members, including David Boon (a national selector) on hand. In comparison New Zealand's players had just three helping hands.
One of them, John Wright, the commander of the New Zealand ship, was busy. From timing the batsmen's stints at the nets, to giving an encouraging word or suggestion, or consulting captain Daniel Vettori while keeping a watchful tab on the batsmen's technique, Wright kept the pulse of the New Zealand camp energetic. The former India coach was back home and he was making sure his wards felt the same.
Allan Donald, New Zealand's bowling coach, readily doubled up as a wicketkeeper sans pads, as he tried his best to read the ball from the hands of the spin pair of Vettori and Nathan McCullum. Both did not mind the slip-ups, having a hearty laugh every time Donald moved in the opposite direction to the spin. Earlier, Donald, who joined the team during the Pakistan series at home recently, had lined up as second slip, standing next to Ross Taylor, as Wright was giving them catch practice. Once again Donald, never a slip fielder during his South Africa days, had his team-mates in splits, dropping a catch. But far from being embarrassed, Donald was doing his best to keep the spirits positive in the camp. Jacob Oram was the other field marshal on the day as he studiously observed his team-mates and passed on his suggestions.
"It has been difficult, but we put it in perspective and said it's nothing to what the people back home in Christchurch and the people all over New Zealand are going through, because it has affected the whole country. The whole country is hurting immensely, and the team feels exactly the same way," Vettori said about how the team was focussing to Friday's game.
Vettori said the importance of the clash was not lost on the players even though the last 48 hours had been an "incredibly" difficult after they woke up on Tuesday to news of the horrific earthquake. "It has been an incredibly tough build-up with what's going on. For a lot of the guys, coming to training has allowed them to take their mind off things," he said. "We know it's a big game in terms of the World Cup, but it's also a Chappell-Hadlee game, which means a lot to people back home, so I definitely think we'll be up for it and we're looking forward to it."
Still the task will not be easy. New Zealand have played 76 one-dayers from the last World Cup in 2007, and though their winning percentage is quite healthy with 32 wins to 35 losses, the figure gets skewed when limited to the subcontinent. They have only three wins from the 18 matches played across the three hosting countries of this World Cup. In the last one year they have suffered series whitewashes in Bangladesh and India.
New Zealand's Achilles heel in the subcontinent has been the inability of their batsmen to notch up a big score. But a day match tomorrow could probably allow them to get their eye in on what is likely to be a dry and flat pitch. New Zealand could also take advantage of Australia's vulnerability against spin; a growing concern for the defending champions, as Ricky Ponting admitted. New Zealand had started with spin in their game against Kenya and today the pair of Vettori and McCullum practised with the new ball, a possible indicator that they wouldn't mind starting with a slow bowler once again.
Vettori said New Zealand were confident carrying forward the momentum they established in Chennai after their 10-wicket thrashing of Kenya last week. "We have to look at ourselves in the best possible light. When we do perform we're a very good team. Unfortunately over the last little while we haven't been able to live up to those expectations. Hopefully we can take the positives of a comprehensive victory against Kenya through to this game but we know it's going to be a different challenge, a lot tougher challenge."
Vettori, however, knows a victory in these troubled times will carry more weight and bring small cheer to a nation in mourning.
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