Wed, Apr 04, 2007 - Page 19 News List

Black Caps relish the challenge

SO FAR, SO GOOD A six-day break followed by three games in five days will leave Stephen Fleming's team knowing what they have to do to win the World Cup

AP , ST. JOHN'S, ANTIGUA

Captain Stephen Fleming of New Zealand raises his bat toward fans as he leaves the field after his team's victory during the World Cup Cricket Super Eight match against Bangladesh at the Sir Vivian Richards stadium in St John's on Monday.

PHOTO: AFP

New Zealand soon will have a better idea of whether it has what it takes to wrest the World Cup from Australia's grasp.

The Kiwis started a six-day break in the Super 8s following Monday's nine-wicket win over Bangladesh knowing that they will resume on April 9 with three games in five days.

Matches against Ireland, Sri Lanka and South Africa will determine whether New Zealand will match its previous best of reaching the semi-finals and get a chance of lifting one-day cricket's most prestigious prize for the first time.

Routine wins over England, Canada and Kenya preceded resounding victories in the Super 8s over West Indies and Bangladesh. New Zealand has made things seem easy so far and, tied atop the standings with Australia, looks like the team with the best chance to upset the defending champion.

"We've done everything we need to and more," captain Stephen Fleming said. "We're looking forward to being put under a little bit of pressure."

And pressure is what New Zealand will get, with South Africa and Sri Lanka also shaping up to be likely semi-finalists.

With a pace attack troubling opposition batsmen and the thoughtful probing of spinner Daniel Vettori, New Zealand should be confident of limiting the big-hitting Sri Lankans.

But, already plagued by injuries, the Kiwis lost opening paceman Michael Mason to a calf injury and first-change bowler James Franklin to a migraine on Monday.

"It's a concern and going forward we want to eliminate [injuries], but at the moment we've got depth and cover," Fleming said. "We've got another six days and that's giving guys time to recover."

Fleming was confident batsman Ryan Taylor and pace bowler Mark Gillespie will be fit to play the next match. Gillespie has missed every match so far, but made his return from a viral infection as a substitute fielder on Monday, while Taylor has had a hamstring strain.

Another concern is opener Peter Fulton, promoted to the lead spot after the first round because of an injury to Lou Vincent. He was Bangladesh's only victim on Monday, caught by Tamim Iqbal off Syed Russel for 15.

"We've asked him to do a role that's a little foreign for him but we've been forced into that with the injuries we've got," Fleming said. "It takes a little time to adjust."

His form is a rare blip in a strong batting lineup and there are no such worries over Fleming. The captain, renowned for his innovative tactics and strong leadership, hit an unbeaten 102 off 92 balls in his team's win over Bangladesh.

It took Fleming to 280 runs for the tournament, a tally bettered only by Australia's Matthew Hayden and South Africa's Graeme Smith, and could give the Kiwis an edge if qualification for the semi-finals has to be decided by run rate.

"I felt my form in this World Cup has been outstanding," Fleming said. "I'm striking the ball well, generating a good strike rate and it was good to push on from 40, 50, 60 and get something substantial."

New Zealand plays South Africa on April 14 and then takes another six-day break before facing up to Australia.

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