Chennai, Feb 19 (IANS) New Zealand, semi-finalists in two of the previous three ICC World Cups, hope to at least replicate — if not better — those performances as they take on Kenya in their opening Group A fixture of the 2011 edition here Sunday.
In the run-up to the day game, there have been the usual statements full of brave words and confidence from both camps. However, the Kiwis are expected to comfortably win more due to the dumps that Kenyan cricket is in rather than their own obvious all-round superiority.
Nothing more demonstrated the fact than the wretched preparatory tour of India in January this year when the Kenyans lost all their five matches to Gujarat and Baroda. The visitors even failed to defend a total of 293 against Gujarat despite a century by 20-year-old opener Seren Waters.
In the World Cup, Kenya had their best moments in the 2003 edition co-hosted by South Africa, Zimbabwe and Kenya. Courtesy a walk-over from New Zealand, who refused to play the Kenyans in Nairobi citing security concerns, the East African team made it to the semi-finals.
En route, they also beat Sri Lanka, Bangladesh and Zimbabwe. Since then, it has been downhill for Kenyan cricket whose authorities never quite leveraged the 2003 success to develop the sport in the country.
In contrast, the Kiwis qualified for the penultimate round in 1999 and 2007 to underline their potential, but for all that, they have never looked a side capable of winning the Cup and it could be no different this time around.
It is not as if the Kiwis are in pink of condition this time around. Their trips to the sub-continent last year were disastrous, losing all their nine ODI matches, four to Bangladesh and five against India. Their 11-match losing streak ended at home against Pakistan, but they still lost the series 2-3.
Lack of consistency has been New Zealand’s bugbear as their performance levels swing to the extremes. Yet, when the team clicks as one, the Kiwis have proven to be a handful, although these occasions have been rare and far in between.
The Black Caps are still smarting from the drubbing against India in the warm-up game here a week back when the home team piled up 360 and went on to complete a 117-run rout. The result washed away New Zealand’s win against Ireland in their previous warm-up match that saw opener Martin Guptill scoring a century.
Coach John Wright, who took over from Mark Greatbatch soon after the team returned from their nightmare tours of Bangladesh and India, has stressed that he has no magic wand to turn the team around, but a bit of tinkering seems to have had the desired effect even if the improvement has been only marginal.
Their top four batsmen in a reshuffled order — Brendon McCullum, Guptil, Ross Taylor and Jesse Ryder — have not fired in unison which is worrisome for the Black Caps although all are eminently capable of tall scores.
In bowling, although the Kiwis have a profusion of seamers, they are hoping that their two frontline spinners, Nathan McCullum and rookie Luke Woodcock, would prosper in conditions that historically have aided spin.
In many ways, the tournament holds immense significance to New Zealand who are expected to qualify for the knock-out rounds from Group A along with Australia, Sri Lanka and Pakistan, who among them have won all the previous five World Cups.
The luck of draw has provided New Zealand with a projected “soft” opener against the Kenyans whose fortunes revolve around their two senior players, Stephen Tikolo (39) and Thomas Odoyo (32), both set to player their fifth World Cup while Waters, a Durham University student, represents their future hope.
The teams (from):
New Zealand: Daniel Vettori (captain), Hamish Bennett, James Franklin, Martin Guptill, Jamie How, Brendon McCullum (wicket-keeper), Nathan McCullum, Kyle Mills, Jacob Oram, Jesse Ryder, Tim Southee, Scott Styris, Ross Taylor, Kane Williamson, Luke Woodcock.
Kenya: Jimmy Kamande (captain), Seren Waters, Alex Obanda, David Obuya, Collins Obuya, Steve Tikolo, Tanmay Mishra, Rakep Patel, Maurice Ouma (wicket-keeper), Thomas Odoyo, Nehemiah Odhiambo, Elijah Otieno, Peter Ongondo, Shem Ngoche, James Ngoche.
Umpires: Rod Tucker (Australia) and Marias Erasmus (South Africa)
Third umpire: Aleem Dar (Pakistan)
Fourth umpire: Sudhir Asnani
Match referee: Roshan Mahanama (Sri Lanka)