Everyone I know is putting New Zealand amongst his favourites. They are part of a short list admittedly and they are third out of three (because, pre-tournament, it is tough to look beyond South Africa and Australia) but that they are there is a story in itself. They have never been before and while they have often made the semi-final it has been seen as an accomplishment rather than as an opportunity lost.
So why now? Three quality batsmen, a fine seam bowling all-rounder, a dashing wicket keeper, a veteran spinner and fast bowling stocks that should be the envy of many countries. Ah yes, and the fact that at home they are seriously formidable! But can they play with this weight of expectation they haven’t experienced before? As underdog you can play with freedom but as contenders, will this freedom that has made them favourites desert them? It is one of many fascinating things to look forward to at this World Cup.
Kane Williamson is one of the brightest cricketing stars at the moment and, dare I say a bit like Hashim Amla, he hasn’t encountered failure recently. He slots in either side of Brendon McCullum and Ross Taylor and that is a fine triumvirate. Martin Guptill can be a match winner though he doesn’t always exercise that choice and with Corey Anderson and Luke Ronchi, ferocious lower order batsmen to follow, they have the right blend of solidity and belligerence.
Somewhere in between, New Zealand will call on Daniel Vettori, whose knees have received a dose of youth. He is a tough cricketer, anyone who bowls spin successfully there has to be tough, and nobody bowls ten overs more stingily than he does. It allows New Zealand to use their fine crop of seam and swing bowlers as attacking options. They have left handed bowlers in Trent Boult and Mitch McCleneghan, right handers in Tim Southee and Kyle Mills and plenty of pacefrom Adam Milne. A couple of players they didn’t pick, Jimmy Neesham and Matt Henry, would have found others to play for. That is always a good sign for a team.
For a team to win, it must possess match winners, players who can turn the tide when it gets tough, who on the big day, wade into a situation. That will be the big test for Williamson as indeed it will be for Anderson whose clean hitting on those small grounds, and steady bowling, will be a huge factor. And then there is McCullum whose astonishing test match batting in 2014 was accompanied by a very strange lull in one-day cricket. On the big day, you want McCullum in your side, not just as a breath-taking batsman but as an inventive captain.
New Zealand will qualify for the quarter-final which they will play in Wellington. I think it is safe to say there are a few teams who will want to avoid that game. That is the reputation New Zealand carry, for the first time, into a World Cup.