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June 29, 2012
Players/Officials: Ross Taylor
Series/Tournaments: New Zealand tour of United States of America and West Indies
New Zealand will enter this weekend's Twenty20 series against West Indies in Florida with a number of questions. How to impress an American audience won't be one of them. Arguably New Zealand's biggest drawcard, Brendon McCullum, is being rested. James Franklin, who has the side's highest strike-rate in the past year, is playing county cricket. Jesse Ryder is out of the picture indefinitely.
Now consider some of the names in the squad. Dean Brownlie. Daniel Flynn. Kane Williamson. They are all fine batsmen, but are far from typical Twenty20 big-hitters. But New Zealand's captain, Ross Taylor, isn't worried. For him, these two matches are a chance to put West Indies on the back foot at the start of a long tour. They also provide an important opportunity to assess players ahead of the ICC World Twenty20.
That tournament will be played in September in Sri Lanka, where the conditions are expected to be slow and spin-friendly. The same could be said of Lauderhill this weekend. Taylor believes Twenty20 need not be all about clearing the fence, and by choosing a balanced batting line-up New Zealand would give themselves their best chance of clicking ahead of the World T20. Impressing the American crowds, he hopes, will come naturally.
"I'd hope to think that we play a good brand of cricket anyway," Taylor said ahead of the T20 series. "I don't think it's going out there and trying to play any differently or showcase it just because it's an American audience. First and foremost we've got to win. But I'd hope to say that we play a good brand of cricket anyway and we don't need to worry about that.
"Playing spin is going to be crucial, not only here in America and in the West Indies, but in the subcontinent. With it being in Sri Lanka and our first two games being against Pakistan and Bangladesh, playing spinners is going to be key. Those players, Williamson and Brownlie, are very good players of spin. Playing Twenty20 is not always about hitting boundaries. It's about rotating the strike. If necessary they can hit the big ball, but they can rotate it around as well."
There won't be any doubt about the way their opponents will play. A West Indies squad boasting Chris Gayle, Kieron Pollard, Dwayne Bravo, Dwayne Smith and Darren Sammy cannot help but play aggressive cricket. It is that combination of batsmen, along with a versatile bowling group including the spinner Sunil Narine, who was the Player of the Series in the IPL this year, that prompted Shane Watson to declare this week that West Indies would be the team to beat at the World T20.
That might have been an unexpected comment, given West Indies sit ninth on the ICC's T20 rankings. Taylor, captain of the fourth-ranked New Zealand, did not go quite as far Watson in singling out one side, but did agree that with Gayle back in their line-up West Indies would be a serious threat at the world tournament.
"I think they will go in as one of the favourites," Taylor said. "Twenty20 is a game, more so than one-day and Test matches, where individuals can win games by themselves. They've got the likes of Gayle, Bravo, Pollard and Smith who can all take the game away from you and win it single-handedly. They are a dangerous side when it comes to that. I'm expecting a very dynamic team, but we're more trying to worry about ourselves."
First and foremost, that means settling on a line-up. McCullum and Franklin will be certain starters for the World T20, as will Daniel Vettori, who has come out of T20 international retirement. But plenty of questions remain, not least among the bowling group. Ronnie Hira has played five T20s for his country without locking down a spot, while Andrew Ellis will also be desperate to prove he can add all-round value to the team.
"We haven't settled on a line-up," Taylor said. "The 15 that are here are all pushing for spots and hopefully that competition will bring out the best in different individuals and come a couple of months' time when we choose our line-up for the first match of that World Cup we have the balance and all our players are set and hopefully raring to go.
"You've got Vettori, McCullum and Franklin who will obviously jump straight back into the Twenty20 side. There's obviously going to be certainties, a few players. But our bowling line-up is far from certain. We've got a lot of spinners as well as allrounders in our side, and we've got the No.1 batsman in the world in Twenty20 cricket in Martin Guptill in our side. So there are a couple of spots up for grabs."
New Zealand have this weekend's games and then two more T20s, against India, before the world tournament. That's only 80 overs of cricket. No wonder impressing the Americans is the last thing on Taylor's mind.
Brydon Coverdale is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. He tweets hereFeeds: Brydon Coverdale
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