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Alan Gardner in Chittagong
March 21, 2014
Report : New Zealand take rain-hit game
Preview : Batting gives reinvigorated NZ the edge
News : England hope wet balls avoid slips
News : New Zealand target early momentum
Matches: England v New Zealand at Chittagong
Series/Tournaments: World T20
If Brendon McCullum had a dollar for every time New Zealand are referred to as the dark horses at a global tournament, he would still not have as much as the $750,000 Corey Anderson was bought for in last month's IPL auction.
New Zealand face England on Saturday evening in the second Group 1 match and the teams' recent experiences could not be further apart. While New Zealand went through the southern summer winning both of their home Test series as well as beating India in ODIs and reigning World T20 champions West Indies in the shortest format, England suffered on a horrendous tour of Australia and then achieved mixed results in the Caribbean.
Another gap between the sides could be the relative power of each batting line-up. England are perceived to be a little light on rope-clearing fortitude - Stuart Broad talked about the importance of "skilful placement" on Friday - but in McCullum New Zealand have the leading run-scorer in T20 internationals. Then there is Anderson, who was bought by Mumbai Indians after scoring the fastest-ever one-day century, off 36 balls, in January. His highest T20 score for New Zealand is just 18 but an ODI strike rate of 159.39 is indicative of what he can do.
Even when such things are taken into account, teams are wary of making predictions. In the last two days alone, Netherlands and Hong Kong have ably demonstrated the potential for upset at the World T20. Spin had been expected to determine the fate of most teams but a quicker, skiddy Chittagong surface is also forcing people to re-evaluate expectations.
"England are a huge challenge," McCullum said. "This competition is so wide open, it's hard to get a read on form lines, who's going to be the most dangerous team. We've been through some preparation and scouting, fine-tuning our plans and it's a matter of executing them against a very good England team initially.
"It's really important that we adapt to the conditions quickly. These conditions in Bangladesh will probably suit both us and England, more so than the subcontinent teams. If we start well we can get some confidence and build some momentum as the tournament goes on."
England have been training with wet balls to try and prepare for the possibility of dew affecting evening games and McCullum agreed that could be another key factor. "I don't anticipate spin will play a great role from the point of seeing the ball turn and bounce past the bat," he said. "Good spinners still manage to play a vital role in T20 cricket but it just won't be quite the same role that we'll see up the road in Dhaka."
Kane Williamson, more of a strokeplayer than a slugger, will open the batting but the presence of Martin Guptill alongside him, followed by McCullum and Ross Taylor, gives New Zealand plenty of firepower; in their most recent warm-up match, they fell just short of chasing 200 against Australia. Anderson could be the wrecking ball that elevates them into the bracket of title contenders.
"He is an incredible talent," McCullum said. "The hundred he got against West Indies was sublime hitting from ball one. He is one of those guys who when he does get himself in, he wins a game pretty quickly.
"Jimmy Neesham is another one who can be pretty exciting and those two balance your team quite nicely. But they have not played a great deal of cricket on the big stage, so it's going to be a challenge for them and hopefully we sit back in three weeks' time and say that not just New Zealand but those guys in particular really stood up and grabbed the opportunity at this World T20."
Asked about New Zealand's overall chances, McCullum said he believed winning the 2015 World Cup in home conditions was a more realistic prospect. Beating England and getting a fast start in a group that also contains the No. 1 side, Sri Lanka, as well as South Africa and Netherlands, would be the starting point in changing his mind.
"We've got the personnel and if we get it right early and get the some momentum going and nail our gameplan the way we want to, then I think we can be dangerous. But we've got to make sure we're right on top because these conditions will be quite challenging and the nature of the game as well, you're going to need a bit of luck. Hopefully luck favours us this time."
Two years ago, New Zealand lost to England during a disappointing World T20 campaign, as they entered a turbulent period in which McCullum took over the captaincy from Taylor in acrimonious circumstances. England's position now is not dissimilar and they will be hoping for a similar swing in fortunes. McCullum will be aiming to ensure it doesn't begin yet.
Alan Gardner is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. He tweets hereFeeds: Alan Gardner
© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.
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Stats highlights from the fourth ODI between India and West Indies in Dharamsala