Cricket: Black Caps' sights on series win

Brendon McCullum
Brendon McCullum
It is easy to disparage the worth of ODI cricket these days.

Opinions range between it being a (still relatively young) dinosaur of international cricket that should be killed off, to a form of the game which, somehow, doesn't really matter.

No room for 50-over cricket what with the primacy of the test game to be protected and the brash T20 teenager sprouting wings all over the globe, right?

ODI cricket still has a plotline, from which teams' fortunes can ebb and flow over the course of a three and a half hours innings.

Lose three quick wickets in T20 and generally you're toast. Not necessarily so in the 50-over version.

Brendon McCullum will appreciate that as he eyes the chance of a second straight ODI series victory over top-class opposition at Eden Park tonight.

New Zealand made light of what was expected to be a formidable South African ODI side last month, winning that series 2-1 - and a ball away from an unthought-of clean sweep - and can give themselves another dose of feel-good pills if they do the same against England in the ANZ international series.

"It is a clutch game. We had a great series in South Africa and these are the sorts of occasions where you hope you turn up, play your best game and seize those moments," McCullum said yesterday.

There's been little between these teams, as they've gone win-about through the first five limited-overs internationals. It's New Zealand's turn tonight, for what it's worth.

The issues for the hosts in Napier were early in both innings. New Zealand's top three batsmen had a struggle against England's classy new ball pair Jimmy Anderson and Steven Finn; by contrast, three hours later it was all plain sailing for Alastair Cook and Ian Bell.

Put your shirt on the winning captain at the toss choosing to chase a target tonight.

Twenty-three sixes were struck in England's 40-run T20 victory a fortnight ago, 15 by the winners.

"They blew us out of the water," McCullum said.

Both captains are likely to figure that if the target is large, provided early wickets aren't lost, they won't be out of the contest when the straight boundaries are a wedge away.

Therefore being smart with bowling lines and lengths, and varying pace, will be paramount.

"You get the feeling it's a chasing ground," McCullum said.

One less fielder beyond the inner circle won't help the skipper defending tonight either, more scoring areas being opened up by that trimming from five to four the number of fielders available for boundary riding duty.

There may be similar carnage today, but England's batting coach, former international lefthander Graham Thorpe, cautioned against great expectations of a coconut shy from the middle into the crowd.

"I've tried to stress that while some of the grounds are quite short, it was a very good cricket pitch and we're expecting another competitive game," he said.

"A par score? I've no idea. If you look back it's not as high as you'd think it could be. But you are capable of scoring over 300 if you set the game up well for yourself."

There was a sense in Napier that England might have been finding their range. However they have experienced the heat of McCullum's bat more than once so far.

As one English writer put it, there will be a focus on avoiding being "McCullumed" again today.

England haven't won an ODI series in New Zealand since 1992. They will be warm favourites going into the test series, so New Zealand will appreciate the value of a win tonight.

New Zealand

(from) Brendon McCullum (c), BJ Watling, Hamish Rutherford, Kane Williamson, Ross Taylor, Grant Elliott, James Franklin, Colin Munro, Nathan McCullum, Andrew Ellis, Kyle Mills, Tim Southee, Trent Boult.

England

(from) Alastair Cook (c), Ian Bell, Jonathan Trott, Joe Root, Eoin Morgan, Jonny Bairstow, Jos Buttler, Graeme Swann, Stuart Broad, Chris Woakes, Steven Finn, Jimmy Anderson, James Tredwell, Samit Patel, James Harris.

- David Leggat of the NZ Herald