Black Caps' top order under pressure

20:11, Feb 22 2013
Alistair Cook and Brendon McCullum
TEASER: Alistair Cook and Brendon McCullum handle the Cricket World Cup ahead of their match at Eden Park.

As one gleaming World Cup was unveiled on Eden Park, a slightly less-sought-after trophy emblazoned with a bank logo goes on the line tonight.

It might be small fry in the buildup to the big show on home soil in two years' time, but New Zealand get a chance to show their ability to rise to the big occasion, rather than the small one, against England, who are heavy favourites to clinch the ODI series in the deciding game three.

England are ranked second in the world; the hosts eighth but can climb past West Indies to seventh with victory. And, more notably, it would signify back-to-back series wins over powerhouses South Africa and England, and continue New Zealand's overdue revival in their best cricketing format with the Champions Trophy looming in June.

"These are the sort of occasions that you hope you turn up and play your best game and seize those clutch moments. It's a really important day for us," said captain Brendon McCullum.

England's eight-wicket stroll in Napier showed the potential gap in class between the sides. By rights England should wrap up the series with ease. They have their test batting lineup minus Kevin Pietersen, one of the world's most devastating hitters in Jos Buttler and a pace attack on a par with South Africa's.

James Anderson and Steven Finn's six-over opening spells in Napier were some of the best new-ball bowling you'd see.


Still, McCullum felt they weren't far off in Napier and could have defended 300. Instead, 269 was too skinny as they lost their way at the start and finish, either side of a reviving Ross Taylor century and some awesome McCullum hitting.

McCullum demanded more urgency from openers BJ Watling and Hamish Rutherford.

"We lost 2-21 in the first 10 overs and the last five was 5-26; they were the two areas we let ourselves down the other day.

"The message to the guys who bat at the top is they've got to play their games, and Hamish is an aggressive top-order batsman and he's definitely being given the licence to play that way."

As in recent games, the toss will carry huge importance.

The tweaked ODI rules, and New Zealand's small grounds, favour the side batting second. With four fielders outside the circle instead of five, chasing teams get more leeway and at Eden Park can also take on the 65m straight boundaries with ease.

"It seems quite tricky for the bowlers, especially towards the last 10 overs," said England batsman Jonathan Trott.

"I think that's why chasing is the way to go at the moment. Especially with night games, the wickets generally tend to get better in the evenings."

New Zealand missed the pace and fire of the injured Mitchell McClenaghan early on in Napier. Early wickets will be crucial tonight. McCullum said Andrew Ellis would be considered, with the long side boundaries, although he seems a risk.

The Black Caps have their ODI game well honed, with McCullum, at No 6, arriving for the power play and blasting it to all parts. But they need more from the top order without Martin Guptill to provide a base, and hope Taylor's breakthrough century signals a flood of runs.

Fielding will be crucial and New Zealand have been poor with their catching. It's a bad seeing ground, apparently, but the hosts and the forecast crowd of 20,000-plus will hope it's the England fielders who suddenly get blurry vision.

New Zealand v England, third one-day international

Where: Eden Park, Auckland

When: 2pm today, live on Sky Sport 2

TAB odds: NZ $2.40, England $1.52

New Zealand (from): BJ Watling, Hamish Rutherford, Kane Williamson, Ross Taylor, Grant Elliott, Brendon McCullum (captain), James Franklin, Nathan McCullum, Tim Southee, Kyle Mills, Trent Boult, Andrew Ellis, Colin Munro.

England (from): Alastair Cook (captain), Ian Bell, Jonathan Trott, Joe Root, Eoin Morgan, Jos Buttler, Chris Woakes, Stuart Broad, Graeme Swann, Steven Finn, James Anderson, Jonny Bairstow, Samit Patel, James Tredwell, James Harris.

Umpires: S Ravi (India), Chris Gaffaney (NZ). Third umpire: Rod Tucker (Australia)

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