Stephen Fleming: New Zealand need to adjust to contender's tag
Christchurch, Feb 12 (IANS) Amid the public euphoria over New Zealand's build-up to the ICC World Cup opener against Sri Lanka Saturday, former captain Stephen Fleming has questioned whether the team will be able to handle the pressure of being a title contender.
In past tournaments, the side has always played the role of the underdog, punching above their weight and with nothing to lose, a side not expected to go all the way and so able to go out with a more relaxed frame of mind, in contrast to teams that were viewed as genuine contenders.
It was a position the side was able to enjoy the last time the World Cup came to the Antipodes, in 1992, when they surprised Allan Border's fancied Australia on the opening day of the tournament at Eden Park and went on to reach the semifinals.
"But now, thanks to the exceptional recent form of Brendon McCullum's side, the roles are reversed and everyone is expecting big things from the Black Caps," Fleming wrote in his ICC website column.
"How the players and support staff handle that tag of being one of the favourites, especially early on, will be crucial to determining how well or how badly this campaign goes."
"On the plus side, and from my position outside the team bubble, I am not detecting any over-confidence or complacency despite victories home and away against Pakistan, plus the convincing series win over the first-up opponents Sri Lanka," added Fleming.
The Black Caps outshined 1996 Cup champions Sri Lanka 4-2 in a seven-match ODI series at home and later, they defeated 1992 champions Pakistan in a two-match series. Prior to the twin wins, they defeated defending champions India 4-0 last year to begin their Cup preparations on the right foot.
"Much of the pre-tournament chat in the media has centred around the idea that the team has momentum but for me that is the most over-used word in sport, and cricket in particular," said Fleming.
"Past successes - or so-called momentum - counts for nothing if you are 10 for two or the opposition is 200 for no wicket; more important is confidence. Confidence to know your gameplan and to stick to it, confidence in your ability to adapt if the situation demands it, and confidence in yourself and your team-mates to deliver under pressure."
New Zealand, who are in Group A, open their World Cup account against Sri Lanka on Saturday. Other teams in Group A are England, co-hosts Australia, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Afghanistan and Scotland.