The Cricket World Cup is only a few weeks away. In this post I take a look at the squad of 15 to go to the Indian sub-continent, and give my assessment of the team and our chances.
John Key (captain)
Key has been a consistent performer with both bat and ball for New Zealand over the last few seasons. He has been the leading run-scorer in New Zealand domestic cricket for the last two seasons running, and has taken wickets at critical times in crucial matches. Some commentators have suggested that Key has been lucky, and that some of his many wickets have been off bad balls, but it's also a sporting cliche that good players seem to have more luck.
Key is a respected and popular leader, but some former players have suggested that his captaincy is lacklustre and conservative. In the last test series against Australia, when New Zealand came up short yet again, Key was criticised for not having a plan to keep us in the game, and for lacking urgency, even though he led the averages for New Zealand in the series. He will have to sharpen up his act if we are to win tight games and exert sustained pressure against the top teams.
Phil Goff (vice captain)
Many picked that this right-hander would not make the tour party. His batting has been disappointing of late, and Goff hasn’t got a score of 50 or more in international games since 2007. He can be a match-turner with his slow-medium dribbles, especially on slow wickets. However, in recent domestic games batsmen seem to have had no difficulty in picking him off, and he conceded a lot of runs in the recent domestic 20-20 competition.
It is clear that Goff has been picked on reputation alone, rather than on form. Some commentators say he is a big-match player who will rise to the occasion when the pressure is on. Others are saying that he is past his best, and that this tournament was the perfect opportunity to blood a younger player.
English has been in a form slump for the past couple of seasons, and this will almost certainly be his last chance to impress. English will likely open the innings or bat at three. A traditional sort of opener, he has eschewed the flashier style of some modern openers in favour of the long graft and the methodical accumulation of runs, however long that may take.
English’s approach isn’t really suited to the shorter version of the game, but the selectors have shown a loyalty towards him that flies in the face of his modest achievements. He will be competing with David Cunliffe for a place in the playing eleven.
Bennett brings a real excitement to the crease with her batting, even if in terms of results her recent performances have left something to be desired. She is back in the team after a stint playing overseas.
"Basher" Bennett is known for her ability to hit the ball, and to keep it hit. It looks good when it comes off. Unfortunately she also has a tendency to throw her wicket away at critical times with rash strokeplay, and Bennett’s technical deficiencies are well known. Bennett's inclusion in the squad is a gamble, but the selectors will be aware that they lack explosive players. She could be a match-winner or a disaster.
An aggressive wicketkeeper and opening batsman who plays an expansive game and likes to dominate the bowling. Regarded as a future captain, Power displays a confidence and (some say) arrogance that makes him a potentially potent weapon.
However, some have questioned whether Power can continue to both open the batting and keep wickets without burning out. In recent weeks he has looked tired. Maybe it is time he took a break and gave someone else the wicketkeeping gloves.
The real backbone of the team, and the best slip fieldsman in the country. Ryall’s no-nonsense approach to the accumulation of runs is in sharp contrast to the flashy approach of his opening colleague Simon Power. Ryall has been near the top of the domestic batting averages this year, and will be looking to continue that sparkling form. Mr Dependable in the field, Ryall is a safe pair of hands in the slips.
On a good day and on the right wicket Mallard’s slow left-arm offspin can be almost unplayable. He’s been a reliable performer with the ball, and a useful lower-order batsman, but incidents off the field and have marred what should have been a more successful career. Mallard is also known as an expert sledger, and tends to wind opponents up.
Mallard is a fighter, and his boxing experience may come in handy in the tougher games.
One of the stalwarts of the team for the last few seasons, Hodgson announced at the start of the season that he would retire after the World Cup.
The injury prone bowler has had a mixed year. His aggression is admirable, but he has lost much of his pace. In domestic cricket Hodgson has captured a few wickets, but has also conceded a lot of runs.
In the domestic one-day final in 2009 John Key savaged Hodgson's bowling, smashing him all around the park. However, in the 2010 four-day final Hodgson managed to secure the prize wicket of Pansy Wong at a critical time, turning what looked like a certain defeat into a creditable draw.
But touring the sub-continent is demanding, and this may be one tournament too far for the ageing bowler. Will his body hold up?
A fired up Collins with the new ball in hand is a sight to behold. You can almost see the terror in the eyes of batsmen when Collins runs in to bowl. Her express pace and lethal array of bouncers and short bowling will be effective on any fast bouncy wicket.
Unfortunately, the types of pitches the team will be playing on in the subcontinent won’t suit Collins' style. On the slower pitches she will be easier to hit, and may go for a few too many runs.
A batsman in the classical mode and a smooth performer with the bat at number five. Nobody hits a cover drive as elegantly as Cunliffe.
Cunliffe has been around the team for a couple of seasons and looks to have the potential to cement a permanent position in the starting eleven, if he has a strong tournament. His mediocre average does not reflect his potential.
The only new cap in the squad, Little’s been around the domestic scene for a few seasons now, and has performed well with both bat and ball. The left-hander has been quietly impressing, accumulating runs and wickets with his medium pacers. A capable fieldsman and potential future leader, Little ought to prosper if given the chance.
A nuggety performer with the bat at 6, Turia was called in to the squad late as a replacement for Hone Harawira, who failed a fitness test. Turia was at her best in late 2008, but her form has since withered, and she seems to have lost some of the explosive power that made the diminutive number 6 one of the most effective middle order players in the country. Selecting Turia her is a risk.
A recent addition to the team, this leg-spinner hasn’t put a foot wrong yet. A useful lower order batsman when quick runs are needed, Robertson is also developing into a classy bowler. His ball that turns the other way is a potentially devastating weapon on a turning pitch. This tournament will hopefully bring out the best in Robertson.
The player opposition teams love to hate. A useful number three, Brownlee had a poor start to 2010, but has recently recaptured the form that first got him selected to the team, after a big score in the recent Christchurch test. He looks unfit, though, and his slowness between the wickets could be a problem in tight games.
The shock pick of the squad. Garrett had announced his retirement from international cricket last year, withdrawing after a series of lurid revelations in the tabloid media about his personal life. It is not known why the selectors sought to woo him from retirement. But with injuries or unavailability ruling out a number of other players (Steven Joyce, Annette King, Anne Tolley, Russel Norman), the selectors may have been concerned about the risk of blooding someone inexperienced.
The medium pacer who can bat a bit, Garrett is famously hopeless in the field, having dropped a number of critical catches in the last one-day tournament he played in. Garrett is also known for his fiery temperament and disciplinary problems, and has been before the authorities on more than one occasion. A potential handful for any team leader to deal with.
In previous tournaments we’ve got as far as the semi-finals, but this year we’ll struggle. With a team lacking star performers, we should be content to get as far as the Super Eights round.