Sports Editor’s Blog: Kiwi firepower could sink Aussie World Cup hopes

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With a rivalry as age-old and fierce as the Ashes, it’s easy to forget there’s another country almost as fond of Australian cricket as England.

In the build-up to this year’s ICC Cricket World Cup, the vast majority of attention has been on the Australians.

Rightly so, they are tournament favourites, seemingly approaching their arrogant best and playing on their own scorched earth.

In Mitchell Johnson, David Warner and Steve Smith, they are armed with out-and-out match-winners, and plenty of other very good supporting acts.

But at this World Cup, there are other hosts and another side making a big noise, in their own quiet way.

Could this be the year New Zealand dish out the ultimate bloody nose to their sneering Australasian cousins?

It’s perhaps unsurprising the limelight has generally shunned the Black Caps.

That’s much more the territory the outgoing, supremely confident Aussie feels comfortable in.

Kiwis much prefer the shade, a trait which could have negative effects if they make into the pressure coooker of the latter stages.

The group stage showdown between the tournament co-hosts in Auckland on February 28 should be a cracker.

And don’t be surprised if the Aussies and Kiwis meet again at the business end of the tournament.

Of course, writing this piece on the eve of the World Cup could bring my customary jinx. It may have already condemned them to two opening defeats by the time this edition hits the streets. But I don’t expect so.

Their runscoring in the 50-over format this winter has been largely impeccable, and not just from the dynamic Brendon McCullum.

The captain has for a long time carried his country’s hopes single-handedly and has hit the form of his career in recent months.

But finally he has been joined by some sturdy reinforcements.

Kane Williamson is developing into the excellent batsman his promise hinted at with two centuries in a comfortable series win over Sri Lanka last month. He also struck another ton and was three runs shy of a second in Abu Dhabi during a come-from-behind 3-2 win against Pakistan last December.

And four other Black Caps have turned in ODI centuries already this year, a remarkable statistic which most nations could only dream of.

There is also an important motivational weapon in their armoury, away from the cricket square, which could come into play.

New Zealand’s second-largest city Christchurch was badly hit by an earthquake which killed 185, one of the nation’s worst peacetime disasters. In December, international cricket made an emotionally-charged return to a city which is still in recovery.

The inner strength which often spills from episodes of turmoil and trauma, could yet inspire the New Zealanders to victories previously considered beyond their means.

Aside from the Australians, the Black Caps must also meet an unpredictable England side in the group stages.

England have an highly promising batting line-up capable of doing serious damage on their day.

But they are still a new unit and their inexperience and inconsistency, allied to another batsman skipper in poor form, will perhaps see them fall short.

Much will also depend on their ability to keep their innings ticking along in the middle overs, an Achilles heel which has plagued them for many years.

Elsewhere, South Africa are their traditionally strong selves and are long overdue a major tournament triumph. They will be eager to once again shake off their tag as chokers and should have few problems in what looks the weaker group.

Hope for England lies in the fact many other teams seem out of nick.

Holders India have won just once on their winter-long tour Down Under – a warm-up against Bangladesh – and for Sri Lanka, many times my tip, many times the beaten finalists, this may be a World Cup too far.

The hosts are still my favourites to win, but I couldn’t tell you which one.