Team preview: New Zealand

Mission: restriction

New Zealand's chances revolve around their slow men. By Brydon Coverdale



Daniel Vettori will have his work cut out for him as captain and lead bowler © Getty Images

Another World Cup, another missed opportunity. New Zealand's failure to progress to the decider in the Caribbean was the fifth time they had stumbled at the semi-final stage, and post-tournament changes were inevitable. Stephen Fleming quit the one-day captaincy, John Bracewell's position as coach was reviewed, and four members of their initial World Cup squad were overlooked for the Twenty20 version.

Bracewell has stayed since but Fleming, James Franklin, Michael Mason and Daryl Tuffey have made way for Chris Martin, Gareth Hopkins, Bradley Scott and Nathan McCullum.

It is Daniel Vettori's first engagement as the full-time limited-overs captain and on-the-job training may be required, as his only Twenty20 experience is a solitary match for Northern Districts two years ago.

Home truths
Only England have played more Twenty20 internationals than New Zealand's five - which resulted in two wins, two losses and a tie - and the concept has been embraced at domestic level. Each provincial team played two matches in 2005-06 and the program was expanded significantly last year. In addition to a full round-robin tournament, a Southland Twenty20 competition was held in Invercargill over a weekend in November.

Strengths
Quality slow bowling has become an important weapon in Twenty20. Batsmen are then forced to create the pace and contrive shots. New Zealand have potentially the most difficult spin duo of any team: Daniel Vettori and Jeetan Patel will use every piece of guile they can muster to tie down and frustrate the opposition. Vettori is a proven match-winner in one-day internationals with his subtle variations in line, length, flight and turn, and Twenty20 should be no different. Patel has become an effective foil and bowling in tandem they race through overs in the middle of an innings. Patel's Twenty20 record - eight games, nine wickets at 16.77 and an economy rate of 6.20 - is excellent.

They will follow the always dangerous Shane Bond, which means even the best sides will have to work hard to rack up a big score against New Zealand.

New Zealand have a great spearhead, and they also have great depth and variety in their bowling, which is second only to Australia's

Ian Chappell

Weaknesses
It's just as well New Zealand are good at restricting their opponents, because posting a huge total themselves will be a challenge. Lou Vincent, Brendon McCullum, Craig McMillan, Scott Styris, Ross Taylor and Jacob Oram are all dangerous strikers, but they struggled to click as a unit at the World Cup and their only decent totals came against minnows. The batting lacks the depth of more fancied sides and the line-up remains far from settled.

In Fleming's absence McCullum could again be pushed up to open, although that ploy has been unsuccessful in ODIs. Teams will also target New Zealand's second-tier bowlers. Mark Gillespie and Chris Martin have their moments but at times they leak copious amounts of runs. The newcomer Scott, a left-arm fast-medium bowler, concedes nearly ten an over in domestic Twenty20.

Player to watch
Scott Styris Thanks to his time in county cricket, Styris is the most experienced Twenty20 player in the squad. He is in form - he was easily New Zealand's best batsman at the World Cup with 499 runs at 83.16 - and he could be the platform around which the likes of McMillan and McCullum launch their attacks. The only concern is that he returned from Durham with niggling back, knee, and calf problems, and losing him mid-tournament would be a major setback.

Dark horse
Gareth Hopkins It will be interesting to see how Hopkins, the back-up wicketkeeper, is used. New Zealand believe Hopkins and McCullum can play in the same side and after Hopkins made 514 first-class runs at 85.66 last summer, who can argue? He had a taste of ODI cricket three years ago, and at 30 he has enough experience to suggest he will not be overawed by the occasion. Hopkins will be desperate to pass this audition as he pushes for a batting spot in the one-day team.



Scott Styris needs to be the middle-order rock around whom the big-hitters play © Getty Images

Ian Chappell's take
New Zealand are mainly a side of veterans who have been around in international cricket for a long time. The only unknown aspect about their cricket is the captaincy of Daniel Vettori, who takes over from long-term leader Stephen Fleming. How the left-armer adapts to the difficult role of being a bowler-captain is crucial to New Zealand's chances in the tournament.

The two big question marks surrounding New Zealand cricket are the ones that have been around for a long time - their vulnerable top-order batting and their ability to fall at the final hurdle with the winning post in sight. If Lou Vincent plays consistently well, the top order will be enhanced, which improves New Zealand's chances immeasurably as they have ample power in the middle order. Jacob Oram, Craig McMillan and Brendon McCullum have the power, precision and thought processes to make New Zealand's middle order as dangerous as any, including Australia.

With Shane Bond licensed to dismiss, New Zealand have a great spearhead, and they also have great depth and variety in their bowling, which is second only to Australia's. They back up their strong bowling line-up by being resourceful and athletic in the field.

If they bat well at the top, and Vettori handles the extra responsibility of captaincy, then New Zealand could very well make the finals as long as they don't freeze in sight of the prize. Rating: 7.5/10

Brydon Coverdale is an editorial assistant on Cricinfo

Comments