| Murali: Worth being wary of
New Zealand Cricketís decision not to play in Kenya has made life for the Black Caps a little more difficult in their bid to qualify for the Super Six in the World Cup. However, the decision has been made and the New Zealand public has applauded it because player safety is rightly regarded as being more important than playing cricket.
Over the years, New Zealand cricket teams have been exposed to devastating situations that could have been potentially fatal for the players involved. Some current players still bear the mental scars from their last tour of Pakistan, in 2002, when a bomb exploded outside the teamís hotel and killed about 20 Frenchmen.
At the time of the explosion, team members were due to meet in the foyer and board their bus. It was a scene of devastation witnessed all too closely by most of the players. NZC immediately made the decision to call a halt to the tour and bring the team home.
In 1987, I was touring Sri Lanka when a bomb went off in a bus shelter killing hundreds ó we were evacuated the next day. In 1992 another bomb exploded in Sri Lanka and some of the players came home.
With possible terrorist threats in Kenya and professional advice not to go there, it is understandable the players and NZC want their match with Kenya rescheduled in South Africa.
I am hopeful that the ICC and other officials will reconsider the decision that will have New Zealand forfeiting the possible four points to Kenya. After all, the World Cup is about playing the matches to determine who is the best in fair and equal conditions.
Whatever the final outcome, the Black Caps will initially have their destiny in their own hands. They are fortunate to play their big matches in succession ó Sri Lanka, West Indies and South Africa. They will need to win at least two of those three matches and also beat Bangladesh and Canada to secure 16 points and that may be enough to qualify for the Super Six.
With only one win from the first three matches, New Zealand will effectively be eliminated. Any team that secures 20 or 24 points from six matches, is an automatic qualifier for the Super Six.
New Zealandís first match is against Sri Lanka at Bloemfontein. This is a key game for the Black Caps because they feel they can and will need to win it. Sri Lanka recently struggled and under-achieved in Australia while New Zealand comprehensively outplayed India.
New Zealand will target Sanath Jayasuriya, Maravan Atapattu and Muttiah Muralidharan as key players to suppress. They know that the pitch is very good for batting and that Jayasuriya is one of the most explosive batsmen in world cricket. They will need to bowl very tightly and give him no room to play big shots because if he gets away, the Lankans will be capable of posting a formidable score that they can defend.
Atapattu is capable of building an innings and batting for a long time. Often, Lankaís big scores are built around his long and solid innings.
Murali is the player the Black Caps will need to be wary of. He has the ability not only to get wickets and slow the run rate down, but will lift his side just by being in the team. Too many batsmen in the past have been undone by this magician, so risk taking will need to be at a minimum.
The match against the West Indies will be played at Port Elizabeth on a pitch that has traditionally been low and slow. Daniel Vettori and Chris Harris may be key players for New Zealand in those conditions, especially if the pitch takes some spin or the ball holds up.
The West Indian batsmen like the ball coming onto the bat, to play their expansive shots. The Black Caps will target Chris Gayle, Brian Lara and Carl Hooper as key batsmen to dismiss cheaply and they will need to respect Mervyn Dillon who bowled impressively against them in the West Indies last year.
New Zealandís one-day record against South Africa is generally poor ó in fact they have not beaten the Proteas in a one-day match in South Africa. This match will be played at the Wanderers where New Zealand won a Test match in 1994. If the Black Caps win this match, it may be regarded as a bonus, but they will need to be mindful that four players have been their nemesis in recent times.
Jonty Rhodes is an experienced quality player, ideally suited to the one-day game with his batting in the middle-order, his fast running between the wickets and his outstanding fielding. Mark Boucherís power hitting at the end of the innings and the allround skills of Shaun Pollock have undone New Zealand on too many occasions.
Nicky Boje also has an impressive record against New Zealand. Along with Jacques Kallis, a likely contender for Player of the Series, Herschelle Gibbs, Gary Kirsten, Lance Klusener and Allan Donald, South Africa have a lot of experience, depth, talent and match winners to make them one of the favourites for the World Cup.
New Zealand may well have gifted Kenya four points by opting not to play them in Nairobi. Kenya are now talking up their chances of qualifying for the Super Six. Steve Tikolo, the captain believes his team has a real opportunity to cause an upset, because they may have already gained valuable points before the tournament starts. Kenya will believe that they can beat Canada and if they can target and beat Bangladesh, they would need to beat either Sri Lanka, the West Indies (they have done that before) or South Africa to potentially qualify for the next stage. It may be wishful thinking, but it is not impossible.
Bangladesh and Canada should not cause the Black Caps too many problems. New Zealand have enough experience and skill to win these matches comfortably and gain maximum points. However, before these two matches are played, New Zealandís fate in the tournament may well have been sealed if they have performed poorly in the first three matches.
If the Black Caps are effectively out of the tournament at that point, it may be difficult to lift themselves for those two games. On the other hand, if New Zealand have performed well, they will want to ensure that they remain focused and win comfortably.
The key to New Zealandís chances in the World Cup is how strong they are mentally and how good their resolve is, knowing that they need to respond to enormous pressure in the first three matches. Nathan Astle, Stephen Fleming, Chris Cairns, Craig McMillan, Daniel Vettori, Harris and Shane Bond are players who need to perform at their peak to enhance New Zealandís chances in this tournament.
The Black Caps have the players, potential match winners, skill and the ability to beat any team in the world on their day. They will need to have three very good days to ensure continuance in the tournament.