Black Caps: Will they or won't they?

BY JONATHAN MILLMOW
Last updated 05:00 23/09/2009

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OPINION: Well boys, what will it be tomorrow night.

The New Zealand cricket team has been at its schizophrenic best in the past couple of days, losing to some local club hacks then turning over India.

Now comes South Africa in a game of high importance, New Zealand's opening match at the Champions Trophy in the republic.

The Champions Trophy is a ruthless 50-over tournament, dubbed the mini World Cup. There are two pools of four, with the top two sides from each pool advancing to the semifinal stage and by the time the final is played at Centurion on October 5, only 14 days will have passed from start to finish.

No time for slow starters here.

For three differently shaped gentlemen the Champions Trophy is the most important exercise of their careers.

Jacob Oram, Brendon McCullum and coach Andy Moles can ill afford to come home with their tails between their legs.

In the case of Oram the simple facts are that his place is now under threat.

His batting average is just 24.4 after 132 games and he is a worse starter than pea soup.

Twenty20 cricket cannot accommodate such players but the 50-over game is slightly more forgiving. Thankfully, Oram's confidence crisis has not stretched as far as the ball.

His bowling remains as methodical as a Swiss clock.

Oh how the mighty sometimes fall.

McCullum's place is not under threat but his reputation has taken a hit during the past couple of months.

He looks to have mislaid his game.

He has chewed off lots in a short space of time and thrilled everyone along the way, but the schedule may have caught up with him.

Perhaps this tournament will tell if McCullum is on the verge of burnout or simply suffering from bad form and bad advice.

Moles is the coach but is in a system where the empowerment is with the captain, Daniel Vettori, and a group of people with backgrounds in other sports (Dave Currie, Don Tricker, Roger Mortimer).

It is an unfortunate position but even so, progress since Moles stepped in 10 months ago has been non-existent.

Hopefully, New Zealand's tactics in South Africa reflect the lack of form of some of their former matchwinners. If McCullum continues to flounder at the top then a Jesse Ryder and Martin Guptill opening partnership should not be sneezed at.

McCullum might even find bringing the team home in the final 10 overs rather than starting them off is the variety his game needs.

Oram needs to bat between Vettori and the bowlers because runs are now considered a bonus.

Vettori is a selector now and needs to start making some hard calls.

New Zealand's hopes rest with their batsmen, Ross Taylor, Ryder, Guptill and the under-rated Grant Elliott.

They have the ability but sadly not the consistency.

As for the bowlers, Shane Bond and Daryl Tuffey hinted at a handy new-ball pair in Sri Lanka and with Vettori and Oram to follow there is 40 good overs.

After tomorrow's opening game against South Africa, New Zealand play Sri Lanka on Sunday and England on Wednesday morning.

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- The Dominion Post

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