World Cup Preview #5: New Zealand

The Kiwis.

They may have lost a lot of games and series, including a 4-0 drubbing at the hands of Bangladesh, but come World Cup time, they're back as the eternal underdogs/dark horses. The batting, while inconsistent, is packed with quality game-changers, that looked like being in some form against Pakistan. The bowling was sort of harmless, but then they were playing on some pretty flat pitches.

Martin Guptill has been batting beautifully without converting his starts, and he is due for a big one. Which he will get, probably against Australia, and maybe another fifty at another time, but nothing else.

Brendon McCullum doesn't have a track record for long innings and bad World Cup stats, yet New Zealand will rely heavily on him at the top order. He will continue doing what he already does: either getting out for a duck or smashing, at most, a very quick 40.

Jesse Ryder seems to be back in form after his recent century, even though it was in a dead rubber. It makes sense that one of his best innings came after a string of losses - there wasn't much "celebrating" before that. If you have an ice sculpture that you want to protect, don't take it to the Kiwi dressing room after they win a game.

Ross Taylor has scored at least one fifty in his last six one-day series, but his strike rates are all in the 70s - a clear sign of the pressure and responsibility on him. He will play his 100th ODI against Ireland soon, and I think he's going to have a good tournament.

Scott Styris, at 35, is surely playing his last World Cup. He has an amazing WC record: 767 runs at almost 70 with two hundreds and five fifties, and 13 wickets too. He looks fit and in form, and his bowling will be more than handy on slow pitches.

James Franklin has been a key member of the team with both the bat and ball recently - he can build an innings, accelerate when needed, and bowl effective fast-medium pace with good variations. He'll probably have a more memorable tournament with the bat, I feel.

Daniel Vettori is ready for his last assignment as captain. He hasn't been the most effective in World Cups, and his best figures in 2007 came against Ireland, but he has loads of experience and the conditions will favor him.

Nathan McCullum has recently been the better McCullum even with the bat, which really helps his cause because his bowling has really not been too great. He might be dropped for Oram.

Tim Southee tends to leak plenty of runs, as his economy rate (5.43) suggests, and he could have a bad tournament if he doesn't get it right. One thing he has going for him is his death bowling and his usefulness with the bat. OK, that was two things.

Kyle Mills made his debut in 2001 and has played 126 ODIs, only one of which is a World Cup game. He is extremely important to the Kiwis, as their only experienced fast bowler. Also: outswing, tall, bounce, lifeless pitches, and all those key words that people highlight in textbooks.

Hamish Bennett, the newbie in the team, could be a surprise package if he gets to play a few games. I'd watch out for this bloke, but mostly because I don't know much about him. I'm just being wary.

Jacob Oram could also be playing his last World Cup, even though he's just 32. He always has fitness issues, but has a good WC record, at least with the ball. 24 wickets at just over 22 is pretty great, and he will definitely add to that tally. He is sort of Yusuf Pathan-ish with the bat - he will score heavily if everything is pitched up.

Kane Williamson, the youngest in the squad, is potentially the Next Top Kiwi. He may not get many games, which is probably best, since he isn't completely ready yet and he hasn't really shown the ability to up the ante when needed. It's unlikely that we will see the headline "Williamson Kanes bowlers" anytime soon.

Speaking of headlines, Luke Woodcock is also here. He's only in as cover for Dan or Nate, and because he provides infinite amusement with his name.

How is Jamie in the squad? Just for that terrible pun?

Official-looking prediction: Super eights. That's a standard prediction for them, but they've always overachieved, so I won't be surprised if I'm wrong. Their pace attack might take a thrashing.