It will be eyes to the sky in Cardiff tomorrow as rain threatens to bounce England from their own tournament and potentially ease New Zealand into the Champions Trophy semifinals as top qualifiers from group A.
The inclement summer weather, combined with Sri Lanka's stirring run chase to topple England at The Oval, left group A wide open to the point where all four teams still have a chance of getting through.
New Zealand arrived in wintry Cardiff after their Birmingham washout against Australia aware of the poor forecast for tomorrow, with persistent rain predicted to set in from late morning.
A washout would guarantee New Zealand a semifinal spot, and whether they go to The Oval as top qualifiers, or remain in Cardiff as second qualifiers, and a likely semi against India on a spin-friendly pitch, depends on the final group A match on Monday. If Sri Lanka win then New Zealand remain in Cardiff and England will be gone.
There's a few complicated scenarios but New Zealand can remove all doubt by beating England, weather permitting. That's the preferred route for the coaching staff.
"We could finish the round robin unbeaten and top of the pool then it's very much in our own hands. If it rains, it rains, we can't do a lot about that and we're certainly not short of cricket," New Zealand coach Mike Hesson said.
"Playing India at Cardiff on a used wicket would be a tough ask for any side, so the benefit of winning the pool and heading to The Oval is what we're looking to do. If we don't, then we've got to prepare accordingly."
Similarly, defeat to England will send New Zealand tumbling out, if Sri Lanka beat Australia.
Yesterday's match again demonstrated the cut-throat appeal of the Champions Trophy as Sri Lanka looked poised to exit the tournament after England posted 293-7 off their 50 overs on the best pitch of the three venues. Thanks to Kumar Sangakkara's unbeaten 134 and a blistering 58 not out from Nuwan Kulasekara, Sri Lanka chased it down to win by seven wickets with 17 balls to spare.
England suddenly went from the box seat in the group to taking anxious glances at Sunday's forecast.
New Zealand will take a relaxed approach to their buildup, with players given Friday off amid a tough recent schedule and long bus trips. Hesson is well aware of managing his troops, particularly fast bowler Tim Southee, whose Champions Trophy is under a cloud due to an ankle injury.
Southee hasn't been the same since the first ODI at Lord's, after an excellent test series. In three ODIs since he's taken 0-116 off 20 overs and Hesson confirmed Southee had battled a sore ankle for some time.
"He's had a heavy workload and it's going to take its toll at some stage. We'll see how he scrubs up. It's a bit of an unknown at the moment."
Either Doug Bracewell or Ian Butler will take Southee's place if he's ruled out. Butler hasn't yet played on tour but appeals as a better option than Bracewell, who can be expensive.
Gloveman Luke Ronchi will continue to open, Hesson confirmed, despite his 45 runs from five innings. Hesson felt if Ronchi could temper his shot selection and get a start, he'd be away. "Once he gets a bit of confidence he can be extremely destructive and that's what we like about him."
Spin will be a big factor, again. Hesson believed their 30 overs of spin against Australia was a first for any New Zealand ODI team as Daniel Vettori, Nathan McCullum and Kane Williamson bowled their full complement. Vettori looked far more comfortable on his sore Achilles tendon. And conditions could be even more spin-friendly here.
"The spinners have been outstanding. Kane has grown another leg and we know what Dan can do, and Nathan, at the start of the tournament he and Dan were vying for a spot and now he's one of the form spinners in the competition. It's a nice position to be in."
The flipside is, New Zealand will have to deal with off-spinners Graeme Swann and/or James Tredwell, who both caused them problems at various times in recent weeks. Then again, the Cardiff weather might see to that.
- © Fairfax NZ News
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