The Black Caps have their task cut out

Published: Sunday, November 2, 2003, 20:59 [IST]
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Pune: New Zealand will have to conjure something extraordinary on Monday if they are to rein in world champions Australia riding high on two big wins in the tri-series cricket tournament. On current form Australia look unstoppable but the Kiwis, languishing at the bottom of the table with three points from two matches, would have to work out some strategy to upset the formidable Aussies if they are to make their presence felt in the tournament. India's 77-run mauling at the hands of their World Cup nemesis Australia in the day- night match on Saturday has thrown the field wide open and it is upto the Kiwis now to grab the opportunity and try and seal a berth in the final on November 18 in Kolkata.

With two wins and a defeat, Australia are on the top with 13 points while India are placed second with eight points from three matches after one no result, a win and a loss.It would be the second match between the Trans-Tasman rivals in the triseries on Monday and Australia start strong favourites after the two emphatic wins, including the eight-wicket demolition of the Kiwis in Faridabad on Wednesday. But New Zealand would have to put behind memories of that eminently forgettable match when nothing worked in their favour and start afresh against the rampaging Aussies. Kiwi coach Ashley Ross insisted that the team spirit was not dampened despite the Faridabad fiasco.

"The best thing about our team is that it does not get demoralised easily," said Ross. "You will see a turnaround (tomorrow). We are ready for the challenge," said the coach putting up a brave front. But Ross knows the futility of empty words and unless his team translates his belief into performance, nothing can stop Australia from romping home with yet another win. Also of concern to the Kiwis is the availability of their match-winner all-rounder Chris Cairns who would be the vital cog in the team's scheme of things on Monday. Cairns has not had a full game as yet in the tournament as his side's first match against India was washed out and he missed the second against Australia due to a hamstring injury he picked in the abandoned match against India.

Though Australia too have been hit by a plethora of injuries, they hardly seem to be affected as their fringe players have come good. Their formidable pace-trio's absence has been made up to great extent by rookie speedsters Nathan Bracken, Andy Bichel and Brad Williams as was evident at Faridabad when they packed off the Kiwis for 97 in just 34 overs. In Saturday's match against India too, the second-string attack worked up a fair bit of pace and troubled almost all of the famed Indian batsmen, including batting star Sachin Tendulkar, before bowling them out for 209 in 47 overs and leaving them 77 runs short of the winning target.

Australia's all-round show must have send warning bells ringing in the New Zealand camp rattled already by the Faridabad experience. However, it is not that Australia have no chinks in their armoury. Their middle- order collapse in the match that they lost to India at Gwalior proved that the world champions too are susceptible to pressure. And New Zealand should look to expose those chinks and take heart from the fact that they have troubled Australia in recent past like in the 2001-02 series on Australian soil in a tri-series and once in the World Cup when they came close to victory before Brett lee took the game away from them.

The overall statistics and history are against the Kiwis but again their ability to upset anyone on their day makes them a force to reckon with in world cricket. Australia have a 59-25 head-to-head record against their rivals, and have won ten of their eleven matches on neutral venues. More relevantly, the two teams have played on Indian soil four times now -- three of them World Cup matches in 1987-88 and 1995-96 and the fourth in the triseries match this week and the Aussies have had the better of the Kiwis on all the occasions. All this will nevertheless cease to matter once the teams are out in the middle and with the stakes much higher for the Kiwis, they might as well come up with an inspired performance and pull off an upset.

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