Napier: Black Caps an all-sorts – take your pick

LIAM NAPIER
Last updated 05:00 11/01/2014

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OPINION: If he didn't know any better, Tom Hanks could have easily been referring to the New Zealand cricket team in the movie Gump.

Indeed, unfortunately, the Black Caps are like a box of chocolates.

In all three formats, you never know what you're going to get.

Just when long-suffering New Zealand cricket supporters start to believe their side has turned a corner, there's the all-too-familiar Hamilton meltdown, against the heavily weakened West Indies team missing six frontline players, with the series on the line.

"It was obviously a bit of a blip on the radar in Hamilton," all-rounder Jimmy Neesham said. The same reality check was evident after the impressive 2-0 test series win. Euphoria quickly subsided after a limp effort in the first one-day international at Eden Park.

Tonight, the contest resumes in the Twenty20 arena in Auckland.

In terms of expectations, though, nothing should change. It's best not to get your hopes up.

As Neesham and his team-mates approach their final two dress rehearsals before the T20 World Cup in Bangladesh in mid-March, only a crystal ball could help predict whether this inconsistent outfit will deliver rocks or diamonds.

"It's on the individuals mostly," Neesham said of delivering more consistent performances. "You've got to take the same attitude into every game, whether you're 2-1 up or 3-0 down. We maybe thought we had the wood on the West Indies going into the last game and were possibly a bit under-prepared for what they were going to throw at us.

"They came out batting like a T20. We've got a bit of a blueprint for the way they're going to approach things."

The frustration is this team - like many before - is capable of being a world-beater on any given day. That unpredictability fosters a love-hate relationship.

Of course, there have been positives this summer. The addition of all-rounder Corey Anderson; return to form of Jesse Ryder, prolific scoring of leading batsman Ross Taylor, potential of fast bowler Adam Milne and classy efforts from seamers Trent Boult and Tim Southee.

The introduction of new personnel creates growing pains, but for the Black Caps to capture wide-spread respect and finally live up to the hype, they must overcome their mental lapses and develop a genuine, ruthless attitude. Nothing is a given.

That's no easy feat in the hit-and-giggle T20 format, where luck often has a large bearing on the outcome.

Eden Park's short straight boundaries, which would be under threat from shot put queen Valerie Adams, only enhance the prospect of top edges flying over the rope, rather than into outfielder's hands.

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"Going out to bat you're expected to clear the rope a lot and it can be a bit daunting at times," Neesham, who scored 12 runs and had 0-35 from three overs in his last T20 international in Port Elizabeth, said. "As a bowler, it almost clears your mind a bit. All you've got to do is try keep it in the park."

Despite their current limitations, this is the West Indies' preferred format. They are defending T20 champions and ranked fifth in the world, compared with the host's eighth.

With India just around the corner, it would be nice for the Black Caps to serve up some scorched almonds.

At least they never disappoint.

- Fairfax Media

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