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Problems at the top

Even before the tournament, New Zealand's batting would have been ranked third of the three teams in the TVS Cup, but when the first two positions are occupied by Australia and India - in whichever order - that is no criticism. Their actual performance in the series, however, has been nothing but shambolic, and yet again at Guwahati, as has happened in all their games thus far, New Zealand's top order caved so early and so rapidly that the rest of the game was spent playing catch-up.

That is never easy to do while chasing, on a slowing pitch, and against a side like Australia, so New Zealand had arguably sealed their fate as early as 88 for 5. Stephen Fleming spoke of fresh morning pitches being his side's undoing at Faridabad and Pune, but the Guwahati track was the least vicious of the three. Australia's attack too was not as potent, with Brad Williams sitting the game out, so one can only conclude, from this display, that the top order sports serious deficiencies.

Chris Nevin, the name that sits atop the batting list, has looked most vulnerable. Unlike many of his team-mates, he was not part of the Test squad, and to arrive in India after a long layoff and plunge straight into a competitive one-day series is admittedly difficult. But for an opening batsman to make just 29 uncomfortable runs in three innings is to give the opposition a toehold into the game almost at the outset. New Zealand have no replacements for him, so one solution would be to bat him later in the order, when the new ball is out of the way and the slower bowlers are on, and open with Fleming and Lou Vincent.

The other major hitch lies in batsmen getting starts but invariably not carrying taking them as far as New Zealand need. Fleming, Vincent, Scott Styris, Craig McMillan and Jacob Oram are all in fine form, and have played knocks throughout their tour of India to prove that. But aside from Oram's 81 at Pune, only once did any of them stick to the crease after getting his feet moving and his eye in. Not surprisingly, New Zealand won that game - against India at Cuttack, when McMillan made an unbeaten 82 to guide his side home.

Fleming must also count himself unlucky to have a fine resource at hand and yet not be able to use him. Chris Cairns's run-ins with injury have always been frequent, but rarely has his side needed him more - for his experience, the powerful batting he brings to the middle order, and the teeth he adds to the bowling attack. New Zealand may win this tournament yet - they are not out of the running points-wise, although they will need a win against India in their last game to qualify for the final - but if they don't, the absence of Cairns will have been a major factor.

A word about Australia's bowling is in order too. After their first game - in which some of their medium-pacers played in Indian conditions for the first time - the bowlers struggled only during a brief phase of a few overs, when Oram was on the rampage at Pune. For all the talk of this being a second-string bowling attack, they have done the typical Aussie thing and brought even second-string up to an international level of competition, and that by sticking to the fundamentals of line, length and common-sense. New Zealand's top order could learn a lot from them.

Samanth Subramanian is sub editor of Wisden Cricinfo.