Former greats praise New Zealand but find chinks


HAMILTON: New Zealand’s rampaging performances at the World Cup have made them one of the favourites for the title but a host of former greats insist it won’t be an easy ride.

Former Australian captain Ricky Ponting, West Indian great Viv Richards and ex-England allrounder Ian Botham believe there are weaknesses in the co-hosts’ line-up which could be exploited in the knockout rounds.

Ponting, who won the 2003 and 2007 World Cup titles as captain, sees a final on March 29 in Melbourne between New Zealand and Australia.

“New Zealand are a confident and well-balanced team and their record at home, as we know, is very good, they rarely lose here. They’re in good shape right now but if there’s any weakness at all it might be the middle-order batting,” said Ponting.

Ponting, who retired from the game in 2012, singled out Brendon McCullum and Kane Williamson as the men who matter for New Zealand.

“If Brendon and Kane (Williamson) don’t get them off to a really good start there may be some chinks in the armour in the middle order.”

Ponting, whose 13,704 ODI runs are third behind India’s Sachin Tendulkar and Sri Lanka’s Kumar Sangakkara, praised McCullum’s captaincy, which he thinks, has helped New Zealand’s impressive progress in all cricket.

“I think they have come a long way since Brendon has taken over, they seem a more confident and aggressive team. Anyone who knows Brendon knows what he’s like as a character so his leadership is rubbing off on the rest of the team.”

Botham, playing alongside Ponting and Richards at a pro-am golf tournament on Wednesday, said New Zealand will face a stiff test if they come up against Australia in the final.

“New Zealand are an excellent team,” said Botham. “I expect them to make the final and then they will play probably Australia at their home, which will be the real test for them.

“But I don’t see why they can’t go on and win it. Brendon is dynamic, he leads by example up front with not just his captaincy and his batting, but also his fielding. And that does have an effect on the rest of the team. They are more than capable of winning the World Cup.”

Richards, who won the inaugural two World Cups with the West Indies in 1975 and 1979, said New Zealand not having had any serious problems in the first round could hurt them.

“I’ve always felt that when you are in the preliminary rounds it’s important to have a little hiccup here and there to get back on the right track,” said Richards, who hit a hundred in the 1979 final.

“You don’t want things to start going astray in the knockout stages. At the moment, though, the more you play and the more you win, that also helps to create confidence. With that, they could go and have a clean sweep as well.” AFP