New Zealand news October 8, 2014

'We head into World Cup as the perennial dark horse' - McCullum

Brendon McCullum: 'With an eye to what may lie ahead in a few months' time it's nice to be able to bring some of the boys who haven't experienced the G before and show them around' © AFP

Here's a startling fact: no team has made more World Cup semi-finals than New Zealand. Six times they have reached the final four of the tournament, in 1975, 1979, 1992, 1999, 2007 and 2011. It is an enviable record, except for one thing. They have won none of those six semi-finals, not once progressed to the decider. Australia, by contrast, have reached six semi-finals, and six finals.

The teams will co-host the 2015 tournament and although New Zealand currently sit seventh on the ODI rankings, it would be a brave person to predict they will not once again make it to the business end. All six of their group matches will be played at home, including one against Australia in Auckland, and should they make the quarter-finals and semi-finals they will play those at home as well.

The only time they will need to cross the ditch to Australia is if they at last break their drought and reach the final, which will be played at the MCG on March 29. On a cold Melbourne afternoon this week, the New Zealanders took a tour of the ground just in case, to familiarise their younger players with the colosseum at which the World Cup will be decided.

"It is great to be back," Brendon McCullum said at the MCG on Tuesday. "There's nothing on event-wise today but with an eye to what may lie ahead in a few months' time it's nice to be able to bring some of the boys who haven't experienced the G before and show them around. It's a nice opportunity prior to the season kicking off.

"We've had some good teams which have turned up at World Cups and major events and done okay. No doubt we'll head into this tournament as the perennial dark horse ... The World Cup is obviously a very important event, but we're also trying to build something that lasts decades rather than necessarily one definitive moment, which can come down to a bit of luck as well."

By giving their players a taste of the MCG atmosphere, even if the ground itself looked more like a sandpit with its turf replacement programme in full swing, New Zealand hope to give themselves that little 1% advantage if they should happen to reach the final. McCullum himself knows how daunting a packed MCG can be for a player experiencing it for the first time, admitting he was overawed when he first took the field as a substitute.

"I remember dropping a catch here when it was a full house and Michael Bevan got a hundred," he said. "I was only about 21 years of age. Stephen Fleming was captain at the time and he moved me from cover down to third man, where the biggest crowd was. That wasn't an overly memorable moment, but something that's very hard to forget.

"It is a great place to play. It's one of the iconic sports stadiums around the world. It would be nice to come back here with a full house come World Cup time."

But before then, New Zealand have ODIs at home against South Africa, Tests, T20s and one-dayers in the UAE against Pakistan, home Tests and ODIs against Sri Lanka, and a couple more one-day internationals against Pakistan to warm up for the World Cup. McCullum said their main aim over the next few months was to continue the improvement that had been occurring since coach Mike Hesson came on board.

"One of our keys heading into the World Cup is making sure we've performed between now and then," McCullum said. "Over the last 12 to 18 months we've taken some significant steps forward as a team, especially in the Test arena but also in one-day cricket. But for us to be a real threat at the World Cup we need to ensure we're still progressing as we enter it.

"[Hesson] has had a huge role in that. He's a meticulous planner and a behind-the-scenes communicator. His preparation is outstanding as a coach. I think he's probably the new breed of coach, in terms of not necessarily someone that is overly focal from a team point of view but works very hard behind the scenes and pulls a lot of things together.

"You could couple that with a very good selection team as well - him and Bruce Edgar have pretty much made every selection work for us. They've got a nice dynamic. Also ... we've got a massive support staff which Mike has employed, and he's not too proud to [not] employ cricketers who have higher profiles than he does. It's a measure of the man that he's prepared to do so. We've got a nice group behind the scenes, now we just need to make sure we get some silverware."

Brydon Coverdale is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. @brydoncoverdale

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