NZ target emphatic finish to dream first phase
A sickness bug in the camp and the odd niggle is about as troublesome as the World Cup campaign has been for New Zealand so far.
New Zealand have not been required to bowl their full fifty overs even once in the World Cup and their batting was under significant pressure only against Australia at Eden Park. The last few days is about as troublesome as the campaign has been for them, with the sickness bug in the camp, some concerns over Adam Milne's shoulder and a disrupted practice session on Thursday as rain swept through Hamilton. Better now than next week in Wellington, but it isn't exactly panic stations.
Their final group match against Bangladesh is about putting a convincing full stop on the drawn out first phase of the tournament.
The hustle of New Zealand's opening three matches in a week feels a long time ago, for those watching and for those playing.
As he has before every match, Brendon McCullum said he expected to be tested by Bangladesh but would not have any qualms if his side waltzed to another victory. However, he also insisted his team have been tested, in various ways, across all their games and the fact that three of the victories have been very convincing is a credit to his players.
"You can argue we haven't been tested but I'd argue we've come through those tests," he said. "The scorelines may not suggest we have been pushed but sometimes they can flatter how hard a game can be as well. We're going to be tested over the next little while but need to make sure we've gleaned confidence from what we've been able to achieve. We're incredibly stoic in our self-belief in how we can play."
New Zealand's top three are ticking along - Martin Guptill spent useful time in the middle against Afghanistan - but Ross Taylor, Grant Elliott and Luke Ronchi have faced a combined 220 deliveries in the tournament. In comparison Williamson has faced 219 and McCullum just 129 for his 249 runs.
"For us it's just about winning and however you can get that job done is important," McCullum said. "We've had the ability to bowl teams out for under 200 and when we have batted first we managed to get over 300. Yes, some guys may be a little bit light under hardened pressure in a game but that's a by-product of the success we've been having."
Taylor's lean run, which followed strong returns against a depleted Pakistan attack in the two-match series before the World Cup, has not been exposed due to the small nature of New Zealand's chases or, in the case of the Australia match, because Williamson held his nerve. However, against Afghanistan, when he batted for more than an hour, his feet were not moving well and it was a scratchy innings.
"It wasn't so long ago that Ross peeled off three hundreds in pretty quick time," McCullum said. "He has been short of opportunity, through the nature of us bowling as well as we have then chasing down the runs but I'm not worried about that at all.
"I've said time and again that the No. 3 and 4 punch we have in our team, I wouldn't swap for anyone in the world. They are class players and under pressure stand up. I expect Ross will be heavy on the runs if we continue to progress in the tournament."
This match is likely to provide New Zealand's toughest examination by spin in the tournament to date. Seddon Park has a reputation for being the most spin-friendly surface in the country, although more so for Test matches than one-dayers. When they played West Indies in a Test in late 2013, the New Zealand players made it fairly clear they were unimpressed by a pitch that offered Sunil Narine considerable assistance.
New Zealand's previous ODI here was against Sri Lanka, in January, and they lost by six wickets. The visiting spinners sent down 37 overs and it is likely that Arafat Sunny will again partner Shakib Al Hasan in the Bangladesh attack even though the surface, under cover for most of Thursday, had a decent covering of grass which will please New Zealand.
The pace attack could feature their first change of the tournament with doubts remaining over Milne's right shoulder which was jarred when taking a catch against Afghanistan. McCullum said they would take a cautious approach, which opens the door for the recall of left-armer Mitchell McClenaghan who, with his extra pace compared to Kyle Mills, is considered the more like-for-like swap.
McClenaghan has taken 66 wickets in 34 ODIs at 24.83 and can consider himself unlucky to miss out on the original side having taken 10 wickets in five innings against Sri Lanka. If he does play it will mean four left-arm bowlers out of five. They are very much the must-have asset and New Zealand are well-stocked.