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Home > Cricket > World Cup 2003 > Columns > Daniel Laidlaw

Something special about the Kiwis

February 20, 2003

This World Cup continues to witness some outstanding performances. For a man who has not scored as many hundreds as he should, just three in 191 ODIs before Sunday, Stephen Fleming played one the great World Cup innings against hosts and aspirants South Africa.

Stephen FlemingFor the situation, the opponent, and the fact that New Zealand were on the verge of elimination, it has to rate as one of the finer Cup moments. Composed, positive and with excellent placement, Fleming kept his head while some of the South Africans seemed to be losing theirs. Never knowing when the rain would come, Fleming and New Zealand had to balance wickets in hand to be ahead if the D/L method was used, while staying aggressive enough in case it was not. The reduced innings did make it easier for them, but the win was no less deserved.

Reigning semifinalists and many people's "dark horse" before the tournament, there are some striking parallels between New Zealand's Cup campaign and Australia's in '99. Then, Australia had no room for error after early losses to New Zealand and Pakistan. Now, New Zealand had to defeat the West Indies and South Africa after effectively starting with two losses, the most a team can afford in this format.

Australia were tactically unsettled four years ago. New Zealand, too, have hurt their cause by being undecided on who to play. Against Sri Lanka, they left out Daniel Vettori; against West Indies, perplexingly opened the batting with him, and against South Africa, partnered McMillan with Fleming.

Most momentously of all, the captain was inexplicably dropped by a South African in the 50s while playing a career innings to keep his team alive. Gibbs famously missed Waugh; Boucher put down a straightforward chance off Fleming on 53 that could yet see his team eliminated. Who says history never repeats? There is also something about those not learning from history being doomed to repeat it, which only South Africa could say whether or not it applies to them.

Lou VincentAt various stages in their last two games, the Kiwis' entire campaign has teetered on the edge of the precipice. At 147/6 against the West Indies, it seemed they were on the verge of preparing to go home. At 34/0, West Indies again threatened to take the game away from them. It is perhaps too early to look for turning points, but if the Black Caps go on to greater deeds they will surely recollect the Lara run as the point at which their fortunes were reversed: Lara whipping Adams off his legs towards the mid wicket boundary, Lou Vincent sprinting it down, sliding, and relaying to Cairns, whose flat throw hit from side on to find the Trinidadian master short. From West Indies' perspective, a freak run-out; from New Zealand's, the best piece of fielding in the tourney to date. West Indies lost 6/46, NZ's brilliant fielding ensuring Sarwan and Jacobs could never quite get WI back in the game.

Against South Africa, conceding 306 seemed to have doomed them. But while one-day cricket has more dull one-sided games than is commonly perceived, this World Cup has brought out some career performances, including Fleming's masterful century, the quintessential captain's knock.

There is much to like about New Zealand. They appear a committed, unified bunch who are on the up. They have some daring. South Africa, on the other hand, continue to tread water, and it seems the ills of the 2001/'02 season are not behind them. In their two losses, South Africa have been missing something intangible. Gibbs and the other batsmen notwithstanding, they are not the cohesive, well-drilled unit of not long ago, not against batsmen (Lara, Powell, Fleming, Astle) who have been prepared to take the game to them.

It would be extraordinary to think the Proteas are missing Hansie Cronje's captaincy, yet it may be so. Donald and Rhodes dedicated the Cup to him, and Gibbs was less than fully supportive of Pollock in claiming on Tuesday that South Africa miss his leadership.

"Hansie's leadership skills made him an icon. We do miss him," Gibbs was quoted as saying. "Shaun is quite new to being captain and he's obviously still got a lot to learn."

If these players are pining for a former skipper and do not have their full weight behind Pollock, it does not bode well for South Africa's chances.

Pollock and Ntini continue to carry the burden with the new ball, but Donald has been a weak link, Kallis is not a strike bowler, and Klusener and Boje contribute to the overall picture, they don't shape it. South Africa's frailties were not expected to be exposed so early in the tournament, but it is to West Indies' and NZ's credit that they have exploited them. At one stage, Pollock was compelled to call an impromptu team huddle to in an apparent attempt to re-focus his side. The absence of Jonty Rhodes is undoubtedly damaging in this regard.

Cracks tend to appear only under the greatest strain. The pressure of playing at home before an expectant nation may well be a contributing factor in South Africa's performance, and time is rapidly running out for them to turn it around.

Expectancy is also something with which Sourav Ganguly is surely familiar. No-one is faultless, least of all Ganguly, but to put things in perspective, the question should be: does India benefit from his leadership or not?

The Australia result should have been worrying, but not entirely unexpected. Admitting to being "clueless" is a poor image, to be sure, but the candour, if that's what it was, is at least an improvement on the banal "we need to pull up our socks" one recalls of Tendulkar's troubled leadership. As has been the case before, Ganguly's actions ultimately spoke louder than his words, with Tendulkar returning to his favoured opening slot, Sehwag joining him, and Ganguly lowering himself down the order.

There is little doubt Ganguly has at times been in denial regarding his own batting, though he is hardly the only batsman of whom this is true. If you must go down, then at least do it on your own terms -- that seems to be the principle India have adopted with the Tendulkar/Sehwag pairing. To live or die by how Tendulkar sets the trend at the top is not so bad. There are worse batsmen one could invest faith in.

Most would probably agree India's recent batting problems have been mental; they needed confidence and against Zimbabwe, they got it.

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