Black Caps take backward step at World Cup

SIMON DOULL
Last updated 05:00 27/02/2011

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OPINION: It's very hard to wade through the Black Caps' poor performance against Australia and put things into perspective after the horrible week people back in New Zealand have had.

Sport is, as we are reminded sometimes, not the be all and end all. And it's certainly not a matter of life and death.

But even so, there is a Cricket World Cup on in the subcontinent and the New Zealanders are one of 14 teams vying for glory.

In the disrupted build-up to their pool match against Australia in Nagpur on Friday, the Black Caps talked at great length about wanting to put some smiles on the faces of suffering Kiwis.

We've heard this sort of rhetoric for quite some time from the team, not just in recent days after disaster struck Christchurch.

Late last year, during the side's tour to India, the same sort of messages were coming out of the Black Caps camp.

The players repeatedly said they wanted to "front up" and put performances on the board that would silence the team's many critics.

But at some point the talk has to stop and action must take its place.

You can say the right things until you're blue in the face but the reality is that talk is cheap. Performing on the park is what matters.

And performing on the park is not what this side is doing right now.

After a simple win against Kenya last Sunday there was a suggestion the Black Caps were ready for bigger and better things.

But Friday's disappointing performance was hardly the sort of showing expected of a team with any chance of winning the World Cup.

If anything, the result was a true reflection of quite where this New Zealand side is in terms of one-day cricket's world stage.

Yes, I know it might sound harsh to castigate the Black Caps for a flimsy performance against Australia in light of the week the players have had.

And, yes, I can appreciate that some within the set-up would have had their minds on other things.

But let's not forget these guys are professional athletes. They had a job to do, were given the option of returning home and in deciding not to accepted the fact they needed to keep their minds on the job at hand.

The performance against Australia was, for want of a better word, poor. It also had a real Groundhog Day feel to it.

The usual wickets in the top and middle order tumbled and once again it was the lower order batsmen who had to try and rescue their side from the mire.

Looking at Australia's run chase, we can't exactly suggest the surface was difficult to play on, either.

What this result suggests is simply that the Australian cricketers are better players than ours.

Also of concern for the New Zealanders were a couple of bizarre match-day selections.

To have senior pros Jacob Oram and Kyle Mills sitting on the sideline for a match against the world-champion Australians was rather hard to accept.

Both, we are led to believe, were fit and available for selection.

But the Black Caps' logic in choosing Jamie How over Oram was that they wanted a stronger batting line-up.

I can accept that argument. But to pick How and then play him at No7 made no sense whatsoever.

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And as much as Hamish Bennett did well against Kenya, to play him ahead of Mills in a big game was surprising.

Mills is a proven performer and I think in the last couple of games at home in New Zealand he showed he was back to where he was in the recent past.

Sure, the nature of the World Cup tournament means the Black Caps have sufficient time to atone for their showing in Nagpur and the reality is they are almost certain to make the quarterfinals as long as they dispatch the minnow sides.

But if they are to perform once they get to that point in the tournament they need to turn things around – and fast.

As far as Friday's match against Zimbabwe in Ahmedabad is concerned, I think it would be prudent for the Black Caps to approach it with a degree of caution.

Zimbabwe's spin attack was impressive against Australia in their tournament opener and I'd expect them to trouble New Zealand too.

The Black Caps should win, no doubt. But they should leave no stone unturned in planning for this match.

If Zimbabwe were to win it would be a massive disappointment with wide-ranging consequences for New Zealand's quarterfinal hopes. But, and I hate to admit it, it wouldn't be a surprise.

Simon Doull is a former Black Cap

- Sunday News

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