Kiwis enjoy cruise along quiet back roads
There are two ways to approach a World Cup campaign. Either you can swagger through the saloon doors with your silhouette blocking out the sunlight and demand the surrender of your weaker-willed opponents. Or you can slip through barely noticed thanks to your meticulous attention to detail and a courteous acknowledgement of the pitfalls that might lie in your path.
So far the Australians have taken the route one approach, and have justifiably positioned themselves as the side that stands in the way of every pretender. But as far as the alternative method goes, few have proved so adept at sticking to the basics as Stephen Fleming's New Zealanders. Today not even the loss, mid-spell, of two of their strike-bowling options could unsettle a side that has now pulled off three handsome victories against Test-class opponents.
"Believe me, that's par for the course," Fleming, whose fine form in the tournament was finally rewarded with an unbeaten 102, said. "We're so well used to this, we just flick into a pitch-up mode to get through, with our back-up and part-time bowlers covering the overs. It's a concern, and going forward we want to eliminate it, but at the moment we've got depth and cover, and today was a good reflection of the way the team is responding to adversity."
New Zealand can now look forward to a six-day Easter break that has come in the nick of time. To lose Michael Mason to a calf strain after just 1.3 overs, and James Franklin to a migraine after six, was not the ideal scenario. But still New Zealand galloped to victory with a whopping 20.4 overs to spare, thanks to an unabashed acceleration in the final 12 overs that Fleming later confirmed was purely insurance in the event that net run-rate is called upon to decide the semi-finalists.
There no longer seems any doubt that New Zealand will be among that number, however. Shane Bond's manipulation of the old ball has provided Fleming with a shock tactic that is the envy of all other captains in the competition. "When I throw him the ball to get a wicket he delivers most times, and that has been key to keeping teams down to low scores," Fleming said. "The way he's been doing it is with subtlety, changes of pace and a little reverse swing, and the length that he's hitting is top-class. It makes captaincy during that period very easy."
Bond now has eight wickets in four matches, at the stunning average of 10.50 and an even more outstanding economy rate of 2.29. In the absence of Brett Lee, and with Lasith Malinga still to prove his four-wicket wonder at Guyana was the norm and not the exception, he is rapidly proving to be the best fast bowler in the business. "It's something that's driven me since my first tour of Australia," Bond said. "It's always a goal to be the No. 1 bowler in the world, but so long as I can put in performances that help us win, that's all that matters."
Bangladesh, in truth, were ordinary. Their hyperactive batsmen were caught in two mindsets; Mashrafe Mortaza was noticeably down on pace; and as soon as the back of the run-chase had been broken, their niggardly spinners became cannon fodder for a rampant Fleming. But whereas Ricky Ponting - after a similarly thumping win over Bangladesh on Saturday - had been bombastic about the certainty of Australia's victory, Fleming was not afraid to admit to an inner meekness.
"We were definitely nervous [before the start] because we were expected to win and win well," Fleming, whose side had succumbed to Bangladesh by two wickets in a warm-up, said. "The pressure of not wanting to lose was what we had to deal with, but we learnt a good lesson when they rolled us over, and that set us up for the rest of the tournament. We just gave them the respect we'd give any other international side, and that's been pretty important in the games we've played so far against the so-called lesser teams."
Steady in the face of adversity, and ploughing a furrow that is taking them straight to the business end of this tournament, New Zealand are as happy as ever to let Australia cream off the attention. "It's going to take a number of things to stop them winning the World Cup," Fleming said. "It'll be about assessing the conditions, then playing as well as we can. We've done that in the past, and we're more familiar with them now. We're really looking forward to playing them because they are the best."
Andrew Miller is UK editor of Cricinfo