Geenty: New Zealand batsmen need sterner bowling test before Cricket World Cup

CRUISE CONTROL: Black Caps batsman Ross Taylor hits a boundary on his way to 96 in Dunedin.
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CRUISE CONTROL: Black Caps batsman Ross Taylor hits a boundary on his way to 96 in Dunedin.


New Zealand's cricketers have a need for speed but no-one to unleash the thunderbolts at them.

A searching examination against the world's three best pace attacks from Australia, South Africa and England is the glaring absence from an otherwise smooth, confidence-boosting World Cup buildup that has New Zealand among the top-three title contenders.

While India's batsmen were roughed up by their hosts, Australia, and England in the early tri-series rounds, the Black Caps were blasting Sri Lanka's increasingly demoralised pacemen to all parts.

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It has been great viewing and done wonders for the confidence of Ross Taylor, Grant Elliott, Corey Anderson and Luke Ronchi, but there remains the one nagging doubt: New Zealand's ability against extreme pace and swing on bouncy surfaces, in a high-pressure match.

The slippery Lasith Malinga, a regular tormentor of New Zealand batsmen, bounded in to bowl some warmups before play on Sunday but is being kept on ice till their opener against the hosts on February 14.

His long recovery from ankle surgery may mean he is not in full flight.

Then there is James Anderson, Steven Finn and Stuart Broad in Wellington on February 20; Mitchell Johnson and his merry band of 150kmh men in Auckland eight days later then, potentially, Dale Steyn and company in an Eden Park semifinal.

Pakistan have a useful and varied pace attack for Saturday's and Tuesday's one-day games, in Wellington and Napier, but nothing requiring reinforced padding.

The most use for New Zealand will come from their low-key shakedown against South Africa at Hagley Oval three days before their opener, to get a feel for the ball whistling past their chins.

It will be familiar after the South Africans snared the first five wickets for under 70 in the two Mt Maunganui one-day games in October.

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New Zealand's thin batting depth past seven has not yet been tested and is unlikely to be in Wellington and Napier.

For the Black Caps, the cup opener cannot arrive soon enough on current form.

They sit behind Australia and South Africa in the batting order for now but should have the subcontinent sides and West Indies covered.

England, coming from such a low ebb, are now looming back into the frame.

New Zealand's next three one-day games, then warmups against Zimbabwe and South Africa, hold significance for Martin Guptill and Mitchell McClenaghan, in particular.

Guptill desperately needs a big score after two unconvincing and technology-aided innings in Dunedin. The form of the other batsmen has kept the spotlight off him but an opener lacking confidence before a big tournament puts a team on the back foot.

Tom Latham should get at least one chance to open these next three games as insurance, and resting Brendon McCullum from one or two makes sense. He is seeing the ball well, and any risk of injury for their canny captain as he hurls himself around the field should be minimised.

McClenaghan is under pressure from Trent Boult to be one of the three quicks in their top XI.

Boult was excellent in Dunedin, returning to snare late wickets on Friday then bowling a probing, accurate new ball spell on Sunday.

Assuming Adam Milne returns fully fit, he and Tim Southee are the bankers for February 14, with McClenaghan and Boult fighting out the third spot and Kyle Mills in reserve.

Sunday's spell was compelling evidence that Daniel Vettori remains the No 1 spinner and should play the cup opener ahead of Nathan McCullum. The Sri Lankans respect Vettori immensely and he has Mahela Jayawardene's number.

McCullum is better with bat and in the field but Vettori has him well covered in the most important discipline.

 - The Dominion Post


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