Can NZ win the World Cup?

6:36 pm on 24 February 2015

Three games into the tournament and we could have been expected to have an inkling as to whether the Black Caps could for the first time make a World Cup final.

Brendon McCullum was at his belligerent best against England.

Brendon McCullum was at his belligerent best against England. Photo: Photosport

In the 10 previous editions of the tournament New Zealand's reached the semi-finals six times, but never made it to the grand finale.

Going into this tournament a repeat performance, again making the final four, would have been viewed as a highly satisfactory result.

But as when New Zealand co-hosted the 1992 tournament momentum is building and along with the expectation fuelled by a Black Caps side that has been sweeping all before a finals berth beckons.

In a sense we are still yet to get a gauge just how good this Black Caps side is and therefore its genuine prospects at this tournament because it has played too well!

The Black Caps comfortably beat Sri Lanka in the tournament opener.

That was a good performance given the anticipation, hype and nerves that had built around the tournament and the Black Caps handled it all with aplomb.

The Scotland win, while a little bit shaky, was put down to the Black Caps wanting to complete their run chase inside 25 overs to boost their run rate.

Black Caps coach Mike Hesson maintained that run rate could be key in the knock out stages and in deciding possible quarterfinal match ups.

Yes it could, but that's highly unlikely to have any impact for the Black Caps.

With two pools of seven, four teams from each pool will progress to the top eight.

New Zealand is in pool A along with Australia and the key for those teams is to avoid finishing fourth in their group so as they don't have to play the top ranked side in pool B - which in all likelihood will be South Africa.

Playing anyone else is all much of a muchness.

Losing seven wickets in chasing down 142 was "untidy" as both Hesson and skipper Brendon McCullum conceded but that performance was well and truly tidied up in the next match in a whirlwind effort against England.

This match was supposed to be the Black Caps first real test of the tournament.

England were outclassed by Australia in their tournament opener, but with a game under their belt they were expected to give the Black Caps a good work out - particularly with a pace attack that featured James Anderson, Stuart Broad and Steve Finn.

But aside from Joe Root, the England batsman failed to show up - dismissed for a paltry 124, unable to cope with the swing bowling of Tim Southee who returned figures of 7-33 the best performance by a New Zealand bowler in a one day international.

England were then bludgeoned by Brendon McCullum's bat, with McCullum making 77 off just 25 balls and bring up his 50 off only just 18 - the fastest half century in a World Cup.

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England are in disarray. Eoin Morgan is still settling in as captain, having replaced Alastair Cook in the lead up to the tournament and on top of that he's struggling for runs himself and it's fairly obvious there's little team work going on - as lamented by Morgan in the wake of the humbling loss to New Zealand.

Fragility in their batting order has been exposed - they've lost 10 of their last 15 games.

Their bowling lineup is fragile too. Steve Finn, who a couple of years ago had no ball problems, has overcome the pasting he took from McCullum - four consecutive sixes and a two over spell that went for 49 runs.

It's hard to see England galvanising themselves into any sort of title threat over the next few weeks.

Australia's start to the tournament has been disjointed. A first up win over England and then a wash out against Bangladesh - they quite possibly feel their World Cup is yet to get underway.

Australia play New Zealand before a full house at Eden Park on Saturday - with the Chappell-Hadlee trophy up for grabs again.

Remarkably the last time New Zealand and Australia played a completed ODI was four years ago at the 2011 world cup in India.

Since then the Black Caps have played 70 one dayers but not one against Australia - a Champions Trophy match between the two teams at the Champions Trophy tournament in England in 2013 was washed out.

This weekend's game is shaping up to be an intriguing battle.

Australia aren't the side they once were. There's also the undercurrents of discontent within the side over the return of Michael Clarke as captain.

There are undercurrents of discontent within the Australia side over the return of Michael Clarke as captain.

There are undercurrents of discontent within the Australia side over the return of Michael Clarke as captain. Photo: Photosport

Coach Mike Hesson and McCullum have settled on their first choice lineup and unfortunately for the likes of Nathan McCullum, Kyle Mills, Mitchell McClenaghan and Tom Latham they're looking like bit players in the tournament.

The defending champions, India, may finally have been roused from their lethargy.

Having been outplayed by Australia in a recent test and one day series, they're no doubt happy to play anybody but Australia, which showed in their win over South Africa.

Having posted a total in excess of 300, India's bowling attack which is hardly threatening by international standards then kept the tournament favourites in check, dismissing them for 177 and showing other sides in the tournament the World Cup bogey could again haunt the Proteas.

Remember despite their prowess South Africa have never won a knockout match at the World Cup and it's something that weighs heavily on a side that knows it should have the title of 'previous tournament winners' on its CV.

India showed South Africa may not be the World Cup force they were expected to be.

India showed South Africa may not be the World Cup force they were expected to be. Photo: Photosport

Sri Lanka has been underwhelming. While still greats of the game, ageing batsmen Mahela Jayawardene and Kumar Sangakarra can't continue to carry the side. Fast bowler Lasith Malinga isn't the bowler he once was either. He's returned form a lengthy injury spell and is so far clearly not match fit.

The West Indies remain an enigma. They're without Dwayne Bravo and Kieron Pollard who were key figures in a recent players strike and subsequently left out of the Windies squad.

They've had a win over a disorganised Pakistan but lost to Ireland.

Ireland's John Mooney (left) and Niall O`Brien embrace after winning their Cricket World Cup match over the West Indies, in Nelson.

Ireland's John Mooney (left) and Niall O`Brien embrace after winning their Cricket World Cup match over the West Indies, in Nelson. Photo: Photosport

Ireland may well make the final eight at Pakistan's expense. Beaten by the West Indies and India, a side fielding as poorly as Pakistan can't be considered world cup contenders and it's no doubt symptomatic of wider problems in the Pakistan side.

Which brings us to the associate nations. An upset or two from the likes of Ireland, Scotland, UAE or Afghanistan was expected. Ireland has already achieved that, just as they did in 2007 when they beat Pakistan.

But the minnows have also shown they are much more competitive in general than in previous World Cups.

That only highlights how disappointing it would be if the International Cricket Council goes ahead with a plan to reduce the 2019 competition to ten teams - the eight major nations plus two qualifiers.

Yes the tournament is long. Perhaps too long. But rather than reducing the number of participating nations the answer could well be to condense the tournament time frame by a week.

That creates more pressure on the players but when you look at New Zealand for example, they're in the midst of an eight day lay off between their England game and their fourth pool match against Australia - a shorter format would certainly seem more preferable.

So midway through pool play what have we learnt?

Before the tournament it was hoped New Zealand would be final contenders.

New Zealand's form - an ability to adapt to match situations and a strong team vibe all suggest if the Black Caps are ever to make a World Cup final, 2015 could be the year.

The Black Caps have a blueprint on how they want to play a game.

What has brought them success over the past 18 months is their ability to stick to that plan, with the players knowing their roles and being able to carry them out effectively.

There is now a strong sense of self belief.

It will require something special from the opposition to unseat the Black Caps and South Africa and Australia appear to be the only team likely to produce that and tip up the home side at present.

South Africa though may not be as strong as expected. The weight of expectation is again a burden they are struggling with it would seem.

The results so far have forced me to reconsider my likely semi finalists. I'm still sticking with Australia, South Africa and New Zealand but now consider India a better top four prospect than a lacklustre Sri Lankan side.

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