Preview: New Zealand play Zimbabwe in battle for fourth place

Zimbabwean spinners would look to stifle the inconsistent New Zealand batsmen at Ahmedabad on Friday

By Suneer Chowdhary

 

Ahmedabad: Mar 4, 2011

 

Between the two in the World Cup, it is a no-brainer to call the Group B as the tougher of the groups. Six of the seven sides have realistic chances of getting to the quarter-final, while the seventh possessing the ammunition to upset one or the other amongst the other six.

 

The situation in Group A is a lot more comfortable. Australia and Pakistan have won two each and should be easy qualifiers for the quarter-finals. With the return of Lasith Malinga, playing at home just became easier for Sri Lanka as well and they should be shoo-ins to the knock-out too.

 

On the other hand, Kenya and Canada have given enough proof to the ICC on why the Associates should not be a part of the competition. This leaves the two teams fighting for the fourth slot, Zimbabwe and New Zealand, and they will tee off against each other on March 4 in a day game at the Motera in Ahmedabad.

 

Zimbabwe have been on a comeback trail but are very evidently a shade below more other Test-playing nations in the world. In the last six months or so, they have been playing half a notch above what they had earlier.

 

On the other hand, New Zealand’s cricket has fallen a rank below their usual. The one reason for their continuing sub-standard performances in the sub-continent was their inability to play slow bowling on helpful tracks. Against Zimbabwe, New Zealand will assuredly face a lot of that against Zimbabwe at Motera and then, they will face more.

 

Even before this World Cup, Zimbabwe have been one of the sides which has used the spinner to open the bowling. They did that against West Indies and against Bangladesh and achieved great success in keeping the runs down.

 

It is here that the game could get interesting. The New Zealand batting is top-heavy, with all four of their hard-hitting batsmen coming in to bat in the top four. They, namely Martin Guptill, Brendon McCullum, Jesse Ryder and Ross Taylor prefer the ball that comes on to the bat, something that the likes of Ray Price and Prosper Utseya will rarely allow. To add to their woes, Zimbabwe have two, reasonably decent back-up spinners as well, in Graeme Cremer and Greg Lamb, who could add to the mix.

 

Where New Zealand had scored over the hapless Kenyan side in their first game was the extra pace that Hamish Bennett had. The Zimbabwean top-order, especially the opening batsmen, have been struggling to get a move on in this tournament and facing up to Bennett could just be an issue they would love to avoid.

 

The toss could prove to be a vital commodity in this game, giving each captain plenty to think about. Zimbabwe’s bowling attack is based on spin but batting first, which roughly translates into them preferring to bowl second.

 

But that would also necessitate exposing their batsmen to the early morning moisture against the Kiwi pace-men, which may not be a very enticing proposition. The converse will work for the Kiwis but the sense is that they will be happy to bat first given the paucity of any useful medium-pace bowlers to assist Chris Mpofu.

 

Teams

 

New Zealand (Probable): Martin Guptill, Brendon McCullum (wk), Jesse Ryder, Ross Taylor, Scott Styris, James Franklin, Jacob Oram, Daniel Vettori (c), Nathan McCullum, Hamish Bennett, Tim Southee.

 

Zimbabwe (Probable): BrendanTaylor, Charles Coventry, Tatenda Taibu (wk), Craig Ervine, Elton Chigumbura (c), Regis Chakabva, Gregory Lamb, Graeme Cremer, Chris Mpofu, Prosper Utseya, Ray Price.

 

Umpires: Aleem Dar (Pakistan) and Marais Erasmus (South Africa).

 

 

Time: 09.30 hours local (04.00 GMT)

 

 

(Suneer is a Mumbai-based cricket writer and can be contacted at suneerchowdhary@gmail.com and Tweets here: @suneerchowdhary)

 

 

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