New Zealand seek to seal QF berth sans Vettori

Mumbai: New Zealand would aim to seal a quarterfinal berth when they take on minnows Canada in their penultimate World Cup Group A clash at the revamped Wankhede Stadium, hosting its first match of the tournament, here on Sunday.

The Kiwis, who will go into the match without injured captain Daniel Vettori, have had a decent tournament so far with comprehensive victories over lightweights Kenya and Zimbabwe, and the unpredictable Pakistan, juxtaposed with the heavy loss to three-time defending champions Australia

With back-to-back wins over Zimbabwe in Ahmedabad and Pakistan in Sri Lanka, New Zealand go into the contest against the motley mix of Canadians with their confidence sky high.

Vettori picked up a right knee injury during the 110-run victory over Pakistan at the Pallekelle Stadium in Kandy and is now targeting the last league game against Sri Lanka at this venue on March 18 to ease his way back.

A victory over Canada, who have little chance of progressing further, would also help New Zealand leapfrog current group leaders Sri Lanka (7 points from 5 matches) to the top with eight points to their credit.

Luckily for the Kiwis, the injury to their skipper has come at a time when their qualifying hopes are bright. In Vettori`s absence Ross Taylor, who roared back into form in the previous clash against Pakistan, would lead the side.

Guptill said the win over Pakistan, who were top of the group then, was not only sweet revenge for the defeat in the home ODI series but also a major confidence-booster.

"That`s a good one for us. It`s kind of payback for the defeat back home. That`s a good one and under different conditions than we are used to. We are looking forward to the next couple of games," he said ahead of the tie against Canada.

The resounding victory, in which vice-captain Taylor`s blazing 131 not out stood out, was the Kiwis` second win on the trot following an embarrassing seven-wicket defeat against holders Australia at Ahmedabad.

The batting debacle against the pace attack of Australia and its spectacular redemption against Pakistan was pointed out by Guptill as the major difference between the two games.

"The difference between the two games is that the batsmen really stood up. We knew what we had to do and as a batting unit we put up a defendable total. That`s what really mattered," he said.

The regain of his batting touch by Taylor would be welcomed by the Kiwis, apart from the splendid consistency shown by Guptill, who has struck back-to-back half centuries.

Of concern would be the less-than peak form of the dangerous Brendon McCullum and the hard-hitting Jesse Ryder.

McCullum appeared to have rediscovered his touch during his unbeaten knock of 76 against Zimbabwe after flopping against Australia but then failed against Pakistan.

Ryder is totally off colour and has scored a measly 25 runs in three matches. Also under-performing with the bat are all-rounders Scott Styris (28 runs in four matches) and the big-built Jacob Oram (26 in 2).

Guptill has been the most consistent of the batting lot, with 192 runs from four matches, including knocks of 86 not out against Zimbabwe and 57 against Pakistan in his last two innings, at an average of 96.00 and would be eager to carry that momentum against Canada.

What must be pleasing for the Kiwis is the performance put in by the pace bowlers, especially Tim Southee who has been the pick of the lot.

Southee has bowled a much fuller length than he has done on Indian wickets in the past and got the ball to move in the air to reap rewards.

He has been well supported by Hamish Bennett, Kyle Mills, Styris and Oram which has given the Kiwis` bowling a healthy look. They, however, would miss the bowling of Vettori in the middle overs against Canada.

Canada, on the other hand, have flopped badly except against Kenya and their batting has been below par for a tournament of this stature while the bowling has been just about adequate.

But captain Ashish Bagai said ahead of tomorrow`s tie that the win over Kenya and the good show against Pakistan has given his team confidence against the Kiwis who, he claimed, have been struggling.

"Besides New Zealand`s poor form, our performances against Kenya and Pakistan give us belief. Overall, we are confident going into the match.

But Canada`s batsmen have struggled right through and are finding it difficult to last 50 overs, which are backed up by the fact that they had been bowled out for poor scores of 122, 123 and 138 in their first three fixtures against Lanka, Zimbabwe and Pakistan.

Leg spinner WD Balaji Rao, Canada`s leading wicket-taker with seven wickets in the tournament, admitted that while team`s bowlers had done well to restrict the rivals to reasonably small totals, the batsmen have not followed suit.