Guwahati: Their confidence boosted after the win over India at Cuttack, New Zealand would endeavour to take a giant leap towards the final by outsmarting the awesome Australians in a crucial TVS Cup tri-series cricket match here on Sunday. But as the Kiwi camp must surely be aware, it is easier said than done, as the Aussies, who would be playing only for reputation having already reached the final, simply do not have it in their character to let their opposition steal a march over them easily. Sitting pretty with 18 points from four matches, the world champions have a nine- point cushion over their two competitors, one of whom they would be meeting in the final at Eden Gardens on November 18.
New Zealand and India, both on nine points, are in the race for the other final berth. The New Zealand show at Cuttack has made the tri-series open and a repeat performance on Sunday would put India's chances in serious jeopardy. On the other hand, an Aussie victory would make India and New Zealand close contenders for a place at Eden Gardens. "This is a must-win game for us," New Zealand skipper Stephen Fleming said.
The scintillating victory against India from a hopeless situation is bound to inject a new vigour into the Kiwi campaign, which seemed to have failed to take off even before the November 6 game. However, a close look at the results of the New Zealand matches would reveal that the Black Caps, who began with a rained out tie against India, have been improving with every outing. They suffered a humiliating defeat against the Aussies in the second match at Gwalior, but went into sniffing distance of victory in the next encounter against their Trans-Tasman rivals before narrowly losing out.
The wheels of fortune seemed have turned a full circle for the Kiwis finally at Cuttack where they staged a spirited fight back to notch up their maiden win in the tournament. Just like their continental counterparts, the New Zealanders can bat deep down the order and the matter came to the fore brilliantly in the last two games. At Pune, New Zealand were virtually in the pits at 68 for five Chris Cairns, Jacob Oram and Brendon McCullum played fine knocks to enable them set a challenging total for the Aussies.
In the Cuttack game, the New Zealanders, chasing 247 for victory, were tottering at 68 for four when Craig McMillan and Scott Styris put on 127 runs for the fifth wicket to fashion a dramatic turn-around culminating in a fine four-wicket victory. "This win will definitely boost our confidence ahead of the coming battles," Fleming said. Australia, the reigning monarch of world cricket, too have a dream batting line up starting from the two swashbuckling openers Adam Gilchrist and Matthew Hayden.
Gilchrist has already notched up 178 runs in the event so far, 71 more than Hayden whose best is yet to come. However, Fleming's counterpart Ricky Ponting has failed to click as a batsman till now, totalling a meagre 61 runs. Damien Martin, who struck a ton against India at Mumbai, as also the likes of Michael Bevan have made the Aussies such a strong batting side. The second-string new ball bowlers Brad Williams and Nathan Bracken, doing duty in place of the more illustrious names like Glenn McGrath, Jason Gillespie and Brett Lee, have also done commendably, sharing 16 wickets between them. On the otherhand, though New Zealanders can bat deep down the order, the failure of the top order in the tournament has been a key area of concern for them. "They have not been playing well.
This is a cause for concern which we have to rectify," Fleming said. Another drawback for the New Zealanders is their poor catching which was in evidence at Pune when they dropped two catches in the last over as the Aussies managed to win the game with just one ball to spare. In the bowling department, seamer Scott Styris, who put up a superb all round show at Cuttack to be adjudged Man of the Match, has maintained a good line and length, while Darryl Tuffey has sent down decent stuff.
The match would have an early start at 08-30 hours (IST), to make up for the early sunset, the usual feature in this part of India. Fleming has already rapped early morning starts, saying the moisture in the air made things difficult for the side batting first.