Crowe: Countdown on to NZ's best shot at glory
As the cricket world deals with the fast changing landscape of increasing commercial wealth, domestic leagues, global television exposure and numerous formats to suit a multitude of demographics and fan bases, the more the remaining meaningful traditions need nurturing and protecting.
Test cricket has no structured championship in sight and is under constant threat from funky faster attractions. The new kid on the block, the ICC World Twenty20, is here to stay, and will now be played every two years such is its popularity and pull.
This leaves the mature and wise ICC Cricket World Cup. Sandwiched between the purist delight of tests and the youthful fix of T20, the one-day game has perhaps the richest taste - the four year crowning glory as to who is the World Champion.
For players, the World Cup is the pinnacle. It's also the greatest challenge. For six weeks the world will be focused on every moment, every decision and every mistake. Just as the likes of England, Spain and
Brazil succumbed to the heightened pressure of the great expectations they felt during the FIFA World Cup, so too will the fourteen cricket nations feel the heat as they take part on antipodean soil seeking their salvation.
Of the eight major nations, three have yet to claim cricket's ultimate prize: England, South Africa and New Zealand. In ten World Cups played since the tournament debuted in 1975, Australia have won four, including a three peat through the period 1999-2007, the West Indies won the first two, India secured two titles eighteen years apart, and Pakistan and Sri Lanka have one each.
With England floundering in all forms and on all fronts, this is South Africa and New Zealand's greatest chance. South Africa have form of sorts, following their two years at the top of the test rankings. They have been housed in the top four in one-day cricket for a while too. With the conditions similar given the southern connection, the Proteas will be highly motivated and effective. Two hundred days out, they and the Blackcaps are building effectively and efficiently, while England remain hamstrung by the Pietersen fallout. Only god knows what will come of them at Cup time.
New Zealand will be quietly pleased England are in their group. They are without question on the up. After a messy and volatile year from late 2012, they broke out courtesy of a Ross Taylor renaissance and a Brendon McCullum blitz to rout the Windies and India on home soil. Since then they have carried on their restoration and will close in on the World Cup with relish and endeavour. Having reached the semi-finals on six occasions, the Blackcaps will feel, if luck is on their side, that this time they might grow the wings they need to fly them all the way home, finally.
As always, the tournament is the culmination of years of planning and building. To win, you either have to be extremely dominant or time your run precisely and immaculately. Another vital pre-requisite is to be incredibly athletic and fit. Sides that have fearless youthful energy, turbo engines to burn, and legs to carry them over the grueling weeks of travel and training, will have a distinct advantage.
New Zealand tick these boxes. They have experience under Brendon McCullum, who is electric by nature, and a growing stable of highly skilled all-round cricketers who can pull off inspiring and miraculous fielding.
Trent Boult is one to look out for, with his growing reputation for daring deeds on the boundary. Throw in keeper Luke Ronchi and outfielders Martin Guptill, Tim Southee, Corey Anderson, Jimmy Neesham and Nathan McCullum, along with close catchers in Ross Taylor, Tom Latham and Kane Williamson, and you sense that this bunch could well be on track to being the best fielding side on show.
On true pitches the bowling will need to be vigorous and fearless. Mitch McClenaghan automatically joins Southee and Boult as my new ball options, with veteran Kyle Mills missing out to speedsters Adam Milne and Matt Henry for the remaining two fast bowling spots in the fifteen-man squad. Daniel Vettori could well be the second choice spinner, and a vital inclusion if fit and injury free, as his vast experience will be invaluable.
Our batting strength will run long down the order, yet they must find a new opening combination that will not only lay the foundation but also score at a frisky rate. Latham and Guptill have a nice feel about their differing qualities; the left hander being short, deft and square of the wicket, while right hander Guptill can play impressively straight when he is moving his tall frame athletically and swiftly. Williamson and Taylor are the prime real estate in this team and need to bat deep. This will allow the captain and all-rounders to unleash hell and express their offensive flair, exposing grounds that simply aren't big enough when their timing is right. There is no need to be tempted to risk Jesse Ryder. This team has fierce focus and won't be distracted again.
New Zealand will win the Cricket World Cup one day. Going by how the '92 team played in a hosting role, as well as the two All Black sides who triumphed at home, I sense this is the moment.
ICC Cricket World Cup 2015 will be co-hosted by New Zealand and Australia from 14 February to 29 March. For tournament and ticketing information visit www.cricketworldcup.com.