x Abu Dhabi, UAE Friday 21 July 2017

Champions Trophy: Dark horses New Zealand prefer being under the radar

The serial dark horses go into the tournament in good form ODI form after dispatching England in impressive fashion, writes Paul Radley.

Martin Guptill smashed back-to-back centuries against England last week as New Zealand wrapped up the ODI series. Philip Brown / Reuters
Martin Guptill smashed back-to-back centuries against England last week as New Zealand wrapped up the ODI series. Philip Brown / Reuters

Writing a preview of New Zealand's chances at a major championship always feels a little bit like playing the "yes-no" game. Only, rather than yes and no, the two words which are taboo are "dark" and "horses".

Do not give in to the stereotype, do not "umm" or "err", and certainly do not hesitate. All of which is just as painfully difficult as trying to answer a direct question by indirect means.

Like always, this New Zealand team are half-decent. In the one-day format at least, their form is irresistible.

They have just disposed of an England side who had not lost a home ODI series since 2009 with all the ease of parallel parking a Smart Car in an empty parking lot.

Results notwithstanding, having two Tests and then a three-match ODI series in England represents far better preparation than any other side will have had bar the hosts.

The batting is prospering as a result. The bowling, sans Trent Boult, is a little patched up, but they still beat England on Sunday while resting the leader of their attack, Tim Southee. And their fielding is, characteristically, stellar.

But, still. Does anyone really notice them? More than ever, this current side is light on stardust.

The Fleming-Astle-Cairns vintage has long since departed. Daniel Vettori has been rarely spotted due to an Achilles injury although, praise be, at least he has been carrying drinks in the past week.

Jesse Ryder is still incapacitated. Ross Taylor has been keeping a low profile after the rancour of the winter. Even star-man-in-the-making Boult has fallen foul of a side strain.

And even when they are at their zenith, New Zealand's leading players tend to market themselves with classically stoic onedownsmanship.

What of Martin Guptill's coruscating run of a century at Lord's followed by the highest score by a New Zealander in limited-overs internationals?

"It's not been the worst few days," said the batsman, who could also lay claim to being regarded as the best fielder in the game.

Brendon McCullum, the captain and most-gilded player in the current New Zealand team, meanwhile, regards his own monument to cricketing excellence as a millstone.

"That innings was the bane of my life," he said after his record Indian Premier League score of 158 was bettered by Chris Gayle this season.

Which is a clue to the psyche of New Zealand cricketers. They are happiest flying below the radar, even when they could be dining out on triumph narratives.

But do not count them out. They have a chance of winning this Champions Trophy. Not bad for dark horses.

Not bad for dark horses. Doh!

pradley@thenational.ae

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