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February 9, 2012
New Zealand completed an emphatic whitewash of Zimbabwe, winning each of the three ODIs by an increasing margin - 90 to 202 runs - to highlight the gulf between the teams. They achieved that dominant result without their regular captain Ross Taylor, whose calf injury kept him out of the series, and with four debutants rotating into the squad.
From an all-round perspective, New Zealand achieved everything they could have. The openers put on century stands, the middle-order batsmen accelerated when they were given the platform to and the bowlers had Zimbabwe's batsmen in a tangle, be it through seam or spin. The only thing New Zealand did not do was chase a total, but that was only because they were never in the position to. Other than that, all boxes were ticked, leaving them as prepared as they can be for the series against South Africa.
"We've played very good cricket so far," Brendon McCullum, the stand-in captain, said. "We've gone up a notch every game in this series. We have been able to raise the tempo of our game and execute better and better in each game, and that was including chopping and changing of the team."
There's a new look and feel to this New Zealand one-day outfit. It's stronger but more flexible, and built on experience but decorated with youth. The successful introductions of Andrew Ellis, Tom Latham, Tarun Nethula and Michael Bates have given New Zealand depth, something they have long searched for.
"They bring enthusiasm and they also bring domestic experience," McCullum said, stressing the importance of playing new players in roles they are used to. "As long as we play them in positions they are familiar with, then they've got some experience to call upon. We've seen in the past, players have come in to international cricket and almost play a different role to what they got picked for, so that was one of the big things we discussed. The guys that would get opportunities for the first time in this series were still able to play in familiar positions so we're pleased with their contributions."
McCullum was equally impressed by the way some of the old hands lifted their games. "Kyle Mills has led the bowling attack, Jacob Oram has unlocked his batting again and played a pretty key role, and Martin Guptill has been phenomenal."
It leaves New Zealand with a problem most teams like to have: 14 players who can fill 11 spots. "The selection issues have become a little bit different from the past," McCullum said. "Then, we've been a little bit barren, now we've got a wider squad that's capable of stepping up."
Ahead of what's being billed as the "contest of the summer" against South Africa, New Zealand have the luxury of choice. McCullum said they will probably stick to what has worked in the past first, before calling on their young players when necessary. "The guys who have been here and done it time and time again will get opportunities first," he said. "But they know they will have some people not too far over their shoulders."
McCullum hopes the right blend of old and new will provide the recipe for continued success and will enable New Zealand to carry on a strong summer. "We've had three outstanding performances here. We've seen some guys get into really good form. The team is travelling really well. The attitude is outstanding. We expect to up for the fight when South Africa arrive."
Firdose Moonda is ESPNcricinfo's South Africa correspondentFeeds: Firdose Moonda
© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.
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