Before the World Cup started, I had told my friends that, providing India could not repeat as champions, I would like to see New Zealand go all the way. The first week’s play has only deepened these feelings.
My support for the Kiwis is nothing new; it goes a long way back. New Zealand is a small country of just 4 -1/2 million vying against countries with much larger populations such as India, Australia, England, Pakistan etc. There is much less financial reward for their players( except for the very best of them who win IPL contracts). Most importantly, they are a very polite, sporting lot and the polar opposite of their neighbors, the Aussies. They play the game the way it is meant to be played , not an easy thing to do in this era of big money, high stakes cricket. My liking for them grew even more when we visited New Zealand three years ago. The country is beautiful and the people are the friendliest in the world, bar none.
Until this year, their hardworking teams have not always had the all-round talent needed to win. They have made it to the semis but no further. This year, finally, the Kiwis seem to have the goods, their team perfectly suited for the one-day game. Superlative fielding. Tight, penetrating bowling with a mixture of pace ( Southee, Boult) and spin ( the crafty Daniel Vettori). Explosive batsmen ( McCullum, Anderson, Williamson, Ronchi and Taylor ).Additionally, they have the advantage of playing some of their matches on home turf.
As things stand now, it looks likely that Australia and New Zealand will finish 1-2 in Group A, the precise order to be determined by the results of their match next weekend. It is not unlikely that they will both advance to the final. Had the final been scheduled to be played in New Zealand, I would rate the Kiwis chances as 50-50 because the swinging conditions would help their pacemen more than those of the Aussies. On Australian pitches, the Aussies would have to be considered favorites. Regardless, I would root for the Kiwis unless they were going head-to-head against India.
What of India! Their defeat of powerful South Africa showed that they can play with the big boys but I am wary of reading too much into it. Last Sunday, they played an almost perfect game and excelled in all three phases of the game. The batting has always been good but for them to outbowl and outfield the Proteas is unprecedented. I think they will probably make it to the semifinals but then they would probably have to beat both New Zealand and Australia and I cannot see that happening. Of course, all this is mere speculation from an ordinary fan of cricket. Anything can happen in the knockout phase.
But … go Kiwis! Go, India!!