New Zealand v West Indies, Southampton, 24 May 1999by John Polack
At first glance, a match between one team in irresistibly good form and another team struggling to reach anything like its potential doesn't appear all that attractive. Such is the nature of one-day international cricket (and so many have been the number of surprises to which we have already been treated in this tournament), though, that the New Zealand-West Indies contest scheduled to be played at Southampton on Monday still connotes a large amount of appeal.
Indeed, in spite of the notion that it seems a little sycophantic to keep suggesting that games are 'vital' and/or 'crucial', the format of this tournament means that the outcomes of all of the preliminary fixtures that are contested between Pakistan, Australia, New Zealand and West Indies do appear to have a great degree of significance attached to them. And this particular game is certainly no different when the full implications of the result are contemplated.
For the New Zealanders, a triumph would almost certainly guarantee a coveted berth in the Super Six round - and moreover, would go a long way toward ensuring that they would, importantly, finish no lower than second in the Group B standings. (Of course, it almost goes without saying that the better a team performs in its opening five games, and the higher it finishes in its group, likewise the substantially better its chances of reaching the semi-finals become.) For the way they have played over recent months - and in their first two games here - there would probably be some justice in that result, but the Kiwis themselves know that consistently good form is a rare commodity in this sport. They will therefore need to ensure that the likes of Geoff Allott, Chris Harris and Gavin Larsen continue to find a metronomically good line with the ball, Craig McMillan, Stephen Fleming and last-game hero Roger Twose spark with the bat, and that their entire eleven continues to work enthusiastically in the field.
To make the forthright prediction that New Zealand will win is also to begin discounting their opponents' chances of performing their own heroics here. Indeed, although the West Indies outfit appears down on confidence (and is still playing with the same patchiness that has all too familiarly transcended its approach to one-day cricket recently), it remains hard to ever write off a team that contains names like Brian Lara, Shivnarine Chanderpaul, Curtly Ambrose and Courtney Walsh. In a sense, in fact, this match has the potential to revive the West Indians' fortunes in both this tournament and in this version of the game more generally. As with their opponents, a win here has enormous ramifications - for it not only brings the team right back into Super Six calculations but affords it the chance to steal an early march on both the Kiwis and the Australians and, likewise, set its sights on finishing no lower than second in this pool. Their most likely route to success is on the back of their bowlers, whose ability to trouble the Kiwi batting may be assisted by a surface which generally rewards instinctively aggressive pace bowling. The virtuoso individual performance which most commentators are expecting batsman Brian Lara to produce at least once in this World Cup might also well be witnessed in this fixture.
Why you should watch: Quite apart from the importance of the result, this match-up makes for an interesting clash of styles. What we should hopefully see is New Zealand's wonderfully team-oriented, purposefully disciplined game pitted against all out Calypso fire, aggression and individual brilliance.
Neutrals may care to enjoy: The magnificent natural elegance of Lara with the bat for one team. And the unfashionable, uncannily effective (and often unbeatable) skills of Harris and Larsen - primarily with the ball - for the other.
Players to watch - West Indies: Mervyn Dillon. Having re-emerged as one of the West Indies' best one-day bowlers during the recent series against Australia, the tall right armer has made a solid start to his World Cup campaign. With his impeccable line (and his ability to gain steep lift on occasions) likely to pose a significant threat on the Southampton pitch, watch again for him to come into his own.
New Zealand: Adam Parore. Whilst Parore is not making too many headlines yet in this tournament, his cleanness, efficiency and reliability behind his stumps has been a big factor behind New Zealand's one-day resurgence. Add to that mix his considerable skills with the bat and you have a player who is always an important - albeit highly underrated and often unnoticed - contributor for his team and one who could well make an even more significant impact than usual in a game such as this one.