Voice from the past puts a damper on the Black Caps’ hopes

Although most of New Zealand seem to have noticed the similarities between their current World Cup run and the famous campaign of 1992, out of Dunedin comes a mild demurral. Former Kiwi captain and a member of that side, Ken Rutherford, agrees about all the points of convergence, except, he says, that this vintage arrive with more fizz.

“[Brendon] McCullum has formed a team that has more natural talent than any of the teams under previous captains, therefore his ability to attack and positively influence a match is enhanced.”

Back in 1992, when Australia and New Zealand cohosted the tournament, skipper Martin Crowe needed to deploy his resources thriftily. He opened the bowling with Dipak Patel, an off-spinner, and the middle overs were handled by Gavin Larsen and Chris Harris. Neither were menacing but they banged away like crazed woodpeckers on an awkward length and, with Mark Greatbatch playing like the proverbial village blacksmith at the top of the order, New Zealand finished top of the single group (the format was slightly different in those days) after the round-robin phase.

To their fans’ delight, they beat Australia in the tournament’s opening game and accounted for England, India, South Africa and the West Indies, only snagging on Pakistan’s outstretched leg. As fate would have it, they drew with Pakistan again in the semifinal in Auckland, Rutherford’s 50 and Crowe’s 91 yanking them to 262 for seven, batting first.

Timed gallop
Agonisingly, after so much early tournament promise, it was a total they were unable to defend, as Inzamam-ul-Haq (60) and Javed Miandad (57 not out) engineered a four-wicket victory. Having finished fourth in the round-robin phase, Pakistan timed their gallop to perfection, a salutary lesson in how to peak at the right time and nose past the more fancied.

“Many folk are comparing this latest spike in cricket interest to the 1992 World Cup and our great run under the leadership of Crowe,” says Rutherford, now the general manager of the Waikato Racing Club in Dunedin. “Certainly the atmosphere at Eden Park two weeks ago versus Australia was unlike anything I have ever experienced at a New Zealand cricket ground. People are walking and talking cricket and this is great to see.”

Rutherford doesn’t see the Black Caps’ watering down their brand of attacking cricket before next week’s quarterfinals, where they’re likely to face the West Indies. In addition he notes that they’re supple enough to change pace should the situation demand.

“There is a nice blend in this NZ side that, if a more reserved approach is required, this can be achieved. Examples would be that [Kyle] Williamson and [Grant] Elliott tend to play the ‘collector’ role in the middle stages of a 50-over innings, and [Daniel] Vettori is the glue in the bowling attack. Steady as he goes,” he says.

“I get the feeling that McCullum’s pyrotechnics at the start of the innings don’t help Martin Guptill – he seems to be getting carried away with the ‘McCullum Show’. Guptill needs to play more properly. This would add balance. Generally the foundations of our play is for McCullum to blast at the start and for our bowlers to get wickets regularly – I can’t see this endeavour altering too much.”

Leading with their chin
The former Gauteng skipper does add the caveat that, although flexible, the Kiwis tend to lead with their chin: “I guess a weakness could be that it should be fairly clear to the opposition what we are trying to do – and it can be countered.”

He adds that opposition captains and video analysts have surely picked up where McCullum is strongest and it’s only a matter of time before it gets countered. “He tends to go offside with his shots. I’m surprised that opposition captains have not set fields reflecting this,” says the man who himself was fond of the offside – except in his case it was a guide down to the third man fence to get off strike or steal the bowling.

Whatever his preferred form of accumulation, the man Shane Warne once dubbed “schnoz” or “beak” certainly has a nose for a winner. He’s not saying who it will be, but you rather feel that the portents are unusually good for the men in black caps.

Then again, Ruds knows only too well that from here on in, it’s more of a steeplechase than a sprint. The going is yielding to soft (Rutherford used the phrase to describe his time as Kiwi captain) and there are any manner of dangerous teams – think of Sri Lanka and Pakistan – capable of beating the odds with a sudden spooky run.

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