To start with, if I'm following a match that doesn't involve any of my favourites, I tend to support the underdog. I'm not just thinking about cricket but any other sport. So, I was thrilled to watch Mcneil defeating Graf at the Wimbledon in 1994, Krajicek defeating Sampras at the Wimbledon in 1996, Panis winning the Monaco grand prix in 1996, Fisi winning the unforgettable Brazilian grand prix in 03, or for the matter Senegal defeating France in the 2002 football world cup. Of course in cricket we can think of Bangladesh defeating Australia and India respectively, or for the matter Ireland defeating Pakistan and many more.
Now coming back to Australia's one-day leg tour of NZ one can't say that Black Caps defeating OZ is equal to Bangladesh defeating Australia as it would mean disrespecting the Kiwi side. NZ have been a decent one-day team for a long time and it can be seen by the fact that they recently reached the finals of the champions trophy in South Africa yet, Australia's form this season has been so good that if NZ are able to pull this one off it would be counted as an upset. Australia have just steamrolled Pakistan and the Caribbean team at home, defeated India in India and they won the champions trophy too. It does show that Aussies are in great form at the moment.
As far as NZ is concerned, they have always punched above their weight in one-day cricket. The Kiwis have never had a side that is made up of lots of stars but they play well as a unit and they have usually given their arch rivals, Australia a run for the money in one-day cricket.
Anyway now let us look at the New Zealand team.
To start with, it is good to see that Bond is coming back to the side. He has retired from test cricket yet, has a lot to offer in the shorter versions of the game with his accurate quick bowling. He wasn't in the best form in the champions trophy nor in the one-day series in Dubai and even in a few List A games in NZ he wasn't said to be in good form. I did notice that in the Champions trophy, Bond with the white new ball wasn't getting the same amount of inswing as he used to get in the past but one can't write off a class bowler like Bond especially, when one thinks of the fact that he has taken 35 wickets in just 12 matches @ 14.45 against the world champions. It is indeed an amazing record. NZ have Tuffey, Southee and allrounders like Oram and Franklin as back pace bowlers. I do expect Tuffey, Oram and maybe Franklin to play. Of course there is the ever reliable left arm spinner, Vettori. It has to be also added that NZ are missing a few bowlers like Mills and McKay. I don't think there is any doubt that if Mills was fit he would have been in the team. His record of 162 wickets at 26.45 proves that he is a fine bowler. Mills is also a handy striker of the ball in the end overs. McKay, who showed some promise against Bangladesh is injured as is the all rounder, Eliott.
So, as I said for NZ to do well in the series, Bond has to strike early. For Australia, Shane Watson has been very good at top of the order and though Marsh wasn't in good form against the Caribbean team, one can say that he has done reasonably well in his one-day career. It is imperative that Bond gets his inswinger going as Watson always seems to be a bit of lbw candidate and when we add the fact that he has a good record against the lefthanders too as 42 of his victims have been lefthanders it would mean that Bond is the key as Australia's other opener is the left-handed, Marsh. Tuffey, who would likely open the bowling with Bond should be mainly given the new ball and shouldn't be used in the end overs as Tuffey isn't someone who can bowl full and bowl those yorkers in the end overs. It can be seen by the fact that even Bangladesh's batsmen went after him in the end overs. He also needs to adjust his line to the left and right combination of Watson and Marsh quickly as in the past he has struggled a bit when up against a left and right opening combination. If NZ can take some early wickets it would help Vettori to do what he does best and that would be to bowl in the middle overs and choke the strong Australian middle order of Punter, Hussey and white backed up by a good fielding unit.
The biggest concern is who would take up the mantle of bowling in the end overs? Most fans and experts would point to Bond as one of the obvious candidates as he bowls full and can reverse it but for some reason, Bond hasn't been that effective in the end overs and even more so after he has come back into the team. Can anyone remember the hammering he received at the hands of the Lankan team recently in the champions trophy? maybe he tries too many things instead of keeping it simple and that would be to bowl full and straight and mix it up with the odd slower delivery. NZ could have explored the option of including the off spinner, Patel as he can bowl those darts in the end overs but he isn't in the squad. Oram can be one of the options as he can bowl in the block hole and of course there is the ever reliable, Vettori though I would like him to bowl most of his overs between 15-35 as he is very good at strangling the middle order of the opposition teams. It looks like Bond with back up from the likes of Vettori and Oram have to bowl the end overs but I'm not sure that attack would do well. In fact it is not just Australia's middle order that must worry the Kiwi bowlers but their lower order consisting of, players like Haddin, Johnson and even the likes of Hauritz and Harris can smash the opposition bowlers to smithereens. So, their death bowling has to be good.
NZ's batting would miss the services of the injured, Elliott. Elliott, may not be huge name in world cricket but he has done very well in onedayers. It is another matter altogether that he hasn't been good enough in test cricket which is a bit of surprise as he seems to have a good temperament. His knocks like his century against Australia with NZ chasing a score of around 300 and his crucial 75 not out against Pakistan in the champions trophy semifinal though shows that they will miss him in this one-day series. IMO NZ's lower order looks a lot better with Elliott in the team. In his place they have called the veteran, Styris but in recent times he hasn't looked fit enough and there have been question marks regarding his attitude.
So, in the absence of the explosive opening batsman, Ryder and Elliott it would be up to the trio of Taylor, McCullum and Guptill to make significant contributions. McCullum at top of the order has promised much but more often than not has failed to deliver. He has got lots of quickfire 20's and 30's but one-day cricket is also about the top order getting big scores. Guptill has a good one-day record but Johnson and co. would test him with short pitch deliveries as he has a fascination for pulling short deliveries. Taylor can be devastating on his day but occasionally he too can lose his concentration and throw his wicket away. He would be their key player in the middle order and they would look forward to him to take on Hauritz as he is fine player of spin. Vettori has improved his batting but he needs more support from the likes of Oram, Franklin/ Styris and Broom. Broom has promised much but hasn't yet done well and it is also high time that Oram again starts getting runs against better teams.
NZ's batsmen also have to guard against the left arm angle of Bollinger and the swing of Harris. New Zealand's batsmen have a history of struggling against swing bowling especially, the left arm version as most of their batsmen seem to be stand and deliver players and don't move their feet. At sometime or the other the likes of Akram,Siders, Zaheer, Nehara, Vaas and co. have troubled them. Bollinger himself is a fine left arm swing bowler and more importantly he seems to have a great attitude. Harris too has shown his worth in the recently concluded one-day series against both Pakistan and the Caribbean team as a swing bowler. Actually, if you look at the Australia line up, Johnson too is a left armer though he isn't a swing bowler and on those small grounds of NZ he maybe taken for runs. McKay has made a good start to his one-day career and they do have the much improved Shane Watson as back up pace bowlers but from a New Zealand's perspective, I see Bollinger and Harris as the main threats in the pace attack. One shouldn't underestimate the off spinner, Hauritz as well as he has the habit of taking crucial wickets in the middle overs.
Of course I have to add that NZ always have a good fielding side though in recent times they have been a bit indifferent but against their arch rivals, Australia I expect them to field well!
As far as the pitches are concerned, it has become a lot more batting friendly and scores of around 300 isn't a huge surprise anymore.
NZ team is well versed with those rugby grounds at home and that is a key factor to consider as well as visiting teams take time to set fields on what are mainly rugby grounds.
The NZ team looks good with Bond coming back into the side and they have players like Taylor, Guptill and Vettori as well. In one-day cricket they have punched above their weight especially, against Australia and I would say that at home they have a decent chance of upsetting the apple-cart against the Aussies.