ICC Cricket World Cup 2015: West Indies vs New Zealand – Preview
New Zealand, by their own admission, face their first true test of the World Cup in their quarter-final against the West Indies on Saturday after emerging from pool play unbeaten.
Wellington: New Zealand, by their own admission, face their first true test of the World Cup in their quarter-final against the West Indies on Saturday after emerging from pool play unbeaten.
Never mind that their nail-biting victory over Australia was settled with an ice-cool Kane Williamson six when New Zealand were down to their last wicket.
They had the safety net then of knowing a loss would not knock them out of the tournament.
Now, for the first time, they face must-win pressure, with added home-town expectation weighing heavily on them to be the first New Zealand side to lift the trophy, or to at least make the final.
Spinner Dan Vettori, a veteran of five World Cup campaigns, described the quarter-finals as "where it really starts".
Form favours New Zealand.
Under Brendon McCullum`s aggressive leadership, the swing of new-ball bowlers Tim Southee and Trent Boult and the guile of Vettori have snared the best of batsmen.
Energetic fielding has trimmed run rates and with the bat, McCullum and Williamson at the top of the order are seldom out of the runs.
Victories over Australia, Scotland and Bangladesh were close as New Zealand banked on their all-or-nothing approach getting them through and refused to slow the pace and play for safety.
The unpredictable West Indies, meanwhile, completed pool play with a three-win, three-loss record and only scraped into the playoffs courtesy of a superior run rate over Ireland.
Their high points were scattered, with the enigmatic Chris Gayle turning on the power to smack 215 against Zimbabwe while his other four innings produced 64 runs in total.
Young skipper Jason Holder took 4-27 against United Arab Emirates but went for more than 10 an over when they were thumped by South Africa who scored 408-5 and rolled the West Indies for 151.
But Vettori dismissed the relevance of pool form when it came to the play-offs.
"All the teams that eventually make it have got match winners. So you can`t sit back and say a team`s not in form or haven`t played well because you go into it thinking that a team is going to play their best."
The West Indies have already tasted must-win tension and survived when anything less than a comprehensive win over UAE in their final pool match could have put the former two-times champions on an early flight home.
New Zealand have confirmed fast bowler Adam Milne has recovered from the shoulder injury that kept him out of their last game against Bangladesh and they are likely to field the same XI who appeared in their first five games.
The West Indies believe Gayle will be fit to play after missing their last outing with a flareup of a back injury but there were question marks over the rest of their line up.
Late arrival Johnson Charles, the batting star of their crucial win over UAE with 55, has staked his claim to join Gayle in the opening partnership while the solid Lendl Simmons has been suggested as a candidate to move up the order as an anchor should Gayle produce his fireworks.
The West Indies could also bring in left-arm spinner Sulieman Benn specifically to target the swashbuckling McCullum who has been beaten by spin three times in the tournament.
Curtly Ambrose, the West Indies bowling coach, accepted his side had lacked consistency while New Zealand had played "some wonderful cricket" through the pool stages.
But it was who handled the pressure best that could decide the outcome, he said.
"Obviously (New Zealand) are the favourites. That extra pressure could take a toll if they are not strong enough mentally.
"We`re not under pressure. According to cricket pundits we don`t stand a chance, so we`re going to go out there and enjoy our cricket and play to win."