New Zealand and Sri Lanka eye ICC rankings
As New Zealand and Sri Lanka square off in a four-match one-day series beginning at Queenstown tomorrow, the captains of both teams know that victory will provide a huge boost do their chances of direct entry into the International Cricket Council (ICC) Champions Trophy in India in October 2006.
As of April 1, only the top six teams in the ICC's ODI points table will gain automatic entry into the knock-out tournament, with the rest relegated to a further preliminary round of matches. New Zealand, currently placed at No.4, and Sri Lanka, at the sixth position, are tightly squeezed into the middle section of the table, with India at five. Both teams, however, have 109 points, and a series sweep will move the winner to 115 points. England, just outside the crucial top six, will undoubtedly carry an eager interest in the four-match series, as a sweep by either team will move them up a notch.
John Bracewell, the New Zealand coach, was looking to get off to a winning start in the first couple matches in order to seize the initiative. "Our guys have already mentioned it," Bracewell said to AFP. "It would be nice to be in the top six, and nice to be in the top three." New Zealand play West Indies in a one-day series in February, and this would provide them with a second shot at progressing up the rankings.
In the recent Chappell-Hadlee Trophy, New Zealand were beaten 2-1 by Australia, and despite clinching a record run-chase in the final match at Christchurch, New Zealand are still struggling for form and consistency. Stephen Fleming, the captain, has taken paternity leave, while Andre Adams, the fast bowler, is out with an injured hand. With Jacob Oram struggling to regain his bowling form, and Craig McMillan dropped due to indifferent performances with the bat, New Zealand will be forced to rely on Scott Styris, Chris Cairns and Daniel Vettori, key players with plenty of experience. Vettori, who captained his side during the Chappell-Hadlee Trophy, is ranked fifth in the ODI bowlers table. Shane Bond, back in form after a long injury lay-off, will lead the attack.
Sri Lanka, for their part, were hammered 6-1 in India and have to contend with a hectic schedule as well. They have a more accomplished batting line-up than New Zealand - Kumar Sangakkara, Marvan Atapattu and Sanath Jayasuriya are ranked in the top 20 - and in Muttiah Muralitharan and Lasith Malinga they have two bowlers who have troubled the home side in the past.
New Zealand were victors in the Champions Trophy in 2000, comprehensively beating a strong Indian side, but have yet to achieve a series win of that magnitude since.
* * *
New Zealand Cricket has announced the team for The National Bank series match against Sri Lanka at the Queenstown Events Centre tomorrow.
New Zealand Daniel Vettori (capt), Nathan Astle, Shane Bond, Chris Cairns, Peter Fulton, Jamie How , Hamish Marshall, Brendon McCullum (wk), Kyle Mills, Jacob Oram, Scott Styris, Lou Vincent.