Like Canada captain Ashish Bagai rightly pin-pointed in the end, New Zealand won the match an hour into the day. It was a period when Canada's seamers were supposed to build the pressure, take wickets and exert control on a pitch glistening with moisture. Instead it was Brendon McCullum who stamped his authority and built early momentum for New Zealand which they never lost for the rest of the game. McCullum's maiden World Cup century is bound to bring cheers to New Zealand, a team in the rebuilding phase.
Despite winning four out of the five group games so far, including the last three on a trot, New Zealand continue to remain pretenders. Injuries to key players like Daniel Vettori and today Kyle Mills pulling out due to a leg strain, the inconsistency of the top-order, and the untested middle-order, which has not got enough time due to easy victories against Kenya and Zimbabwe, are questions that nag New Zealand.
Still, McCullum believed that the team were on the right path. "The camp is slowly building some confidence. We are slowly starting to play how we want to play and we move into the next game knowing that we have played well over the last couple of games," he said.
New Zealand started their campaign by thrashing Kenya in their opening match, but perished against Australia in what was originally ticked as a marquee clash. John Wright was understandably admonished at the lack of application from the batsmen and gave them an earful in private, while jotting a list of dos and don'ts. The schoolboy treatment has worked. In their wins against Zimbabwe, Pakistan and today Canada, the top order worked hard on making sure they didn't gift their wickets away.
McCullum, in the company of Martin Guptill, took advantage of the wayward bowling from the Canadian seamers and the pair raised hopes of a big stand. But Guptill, like Jesse Ryder who replaced him, would be disappointed about not cashing in on a good start. Both men reined in their aggression and to play a controlled knock but then lost patience and fell to casual strokes. Fortunately McCullum hung around and played at a steady tempo. There was no adrenalin rush as he understood he could be aggressive by picking the bad balls while rotating the strike, a point Wright has noted in his book.
"Today was a key victory, too, because we were able to play to roles we were trying to play to and execute the kind of skills we were hoping to achieve. Anytime you win, anytime you perform well, anytime that you get some confidence out of the game, that certainly helps" he said.
McCullum believed the reason New Zealand had more performers today was because every player is understanding his role and playing within himself. "When we came here we had gone through pretty tough time back home (a 3-2 series loss to Pakistan at home). But none of that mattered once we arrived here. It was a matter of making sure this team was able to go out and play its best cricket, each of us understood our roles. John Wright has been instrumental has been able to offer that experience and confidence to each player. We have seen this New Zealand team operate with a clear role which you can't say about some New Zealand teams in the past. The biggest turned around is that we are going in with more confidence," McCullum said.
New Zealand have entered World Cups in the past as underdogs, making the semi-finals twice in the last three World Cups (1999 and 2007). McCullum, who played in the 2007 edition, believed the past New Zealand teams created opportunities. This team is now following that example. "It is work in progress. The tournament is spun out over six to seven weeks. It is not a short tournament. It is a matter of trying to get momentum and when you get it you try and hold on it. From our point of view we have a little bit of momentum now and there is another great opportunity to continue that momentum we have built in the last few games. The confidence is starting to seep into the team. That is something we desperately need. We are proud of New Zealand teams have been able to achieve in the past World Cups - they consistently gave themselves the opportunity."