It's New Zealand's bowling vs West Indies' batting in World Cup quarters
Wellington, March 20 (IANS)
A much-anticipated pulsating battle between New Zealand's bowlers and two-time champions West Indies' big hitters may well decide the fourth quarter-final of the cricket World Cup here on Saturday.
Co-hosts New Zealand are high on confidence after romping into the knock-out stage with an all-win record in their six Pool A matches.
In contrast, the West Indies began with a loss against associate nation Ireland. But they recouped to finally scrape through to the quarter-finals as the fourth-placed side in Pool B, vanquishing the United Arab Emirates in the last group game. A defeat there would have ended their World Cup hopes.
The West Indies would rely heavily on their flamboyant willowers, who have it in themselves to upturn the match script on their day.
West Indies’ performance so far
Demolisher Chris Gayle missed the last clash due to a back injury, but the left-handed opener could return to the playing XI, even if he is not completely fit.
Gayle has already cracked a double-century in this edition of the World Cup and his role will be crucial if the visitors are to beat the co-hosts.
Apart from Gayle, the West Indies team management would hope the aggressive Dwayne Smith, Marlon Samuels and Lendl Simmons come good on the 22 yards. All-rounders Andre Russell and Darren Sammy would be the others in the Caribbean ranks to watch out for.
Jerome Taylor has been pretty quick, but skipper Jason Holder has come in for some punishment in this tournament. His figures nosedived from 5-2-9-1 against South Africa to 10-2-104-2 at the hands of marauding AB de Villiers.
Spinner Sulieman Benn will come handy as he has kept things tight so far while picking up wickets.
Even before the start of the tourney, New Zealand were considered favourites. But no one expected the erratic West Indies to even make the knockout rounds after their early loss to Ireland.
Moreover, off-field chaos that saw star batsman Gayle slamming the omissions of Dwayne Bravo and Kieron Pollard for the mega-event squad, and effectively declare war on the West Indies cricket governing body didn't help their cause.
Can the Kiwis handle the pressure?
However, it has to be seen how the Kiwis handle the occasion that hasn't been this big for any of them.
New Zealand's Daniel Vettori played in the past two World Cup semi-finals – both ending in defeats to Sri Lanka.
So far in this World Cup, New Zealand have been spot on - be it with the bat or the ball - with each and every player stepping up when the situation demanded.
The Kiwis' bowling trio of Tim Southee, Trent Boult and Daniel Vettori have been key to the success of the New Zealanders - collectively managing 41 wickets so far from six matches.
Captain Brendon McCullum will once again bank heavily on these three bowlers when his side takes on the two-time world champions.
McCullum, though, is unlikely to change his plans. Adam Milne is set to return in place of Mitchell McClenaghan. And if all goes to script for McCullum, he will not look beyond his five main bowlers, but should a sixth be required, Grant Elliott will again be the man under pressure.
A number of factors could decide Saturday's quarter-final match. New Zealand may find themselves deep into the woods if Gayle launches one of his characteristic slogs, or if their skipper McCullum is removed early.
The West indies face the challenging task of countering the dual threat of Vettori's economy and strike-rate, but if the Caribbeans are able to lay a platform, the contest between their hefty strikers and New Zealand's death-bowling tactics could give the spectators their money's worth.
The winner of the clash will take on South Africa, who made it to the semi-final after an easy win over Sri Lanka in Sydney on Wednesday.