Max Johns - unwilling alter-ego, the dark mind of Matt Nippert

Wednesday, December 08, 2004

So it’s looking like rain in Sydney today. Nice. Cricket fans can expect a few showers, which don't sound so bad, and thunderstorms, which do. The second ODI against Australia could well be a non-starter. And to think that Melbourne had the foresight to build a bloody great big roof for the first game. With no reserve day scheduled, that throws a spanner into the Chappell-Hadlee Trophy’s debut series. If today's game is lost and the Australians win the next, a tied series is a rather weak start to what will hopefully become a strong and popular (as well as regular) sporting competition.

New Zealand's win on Sunday (ha!) has set up a decent contest between ourselves and the Aussies (at long bloody last), and it's a pity that a spot of weather might ruin it. Especially since, as reported by this pessimistic Australian sports writer (is there anything more rare in today's cricketing world?), there's a lot more than a single trophy riding on the trans-Tasman cricket played this season.

It’s been well-publicised that a World XI is going to be picked to play against Australia next September. But that's not exactly true. The World XI's opponents will in fact be whichever team is top of the ICC's rankings on April 1, 2005, in either form of the game. That is, the top test team plays the World XI test, and the top ODI team takes them on in the shorter game. For years it's been unimaginable that any team other than Australia would be the top test or one day team between now and approximately forever and fucking ever, and so the deadline hasn't been a subject of much discussion. Instead, the assumed World vs. Australia series in both forms of the game has been the focus.

Australia is quite possibly fielding the best team in world cricket ever right now, so it's a quite rational assumption that that they’ll be on top of the world in five months’ time. But what that quite rational assumption fails to take into account is that it's a funny old game, cricket, and anything can happen . It also failed to take into account New Zealand's recent employment of coach John Bracewell, who is something of a King Midas when it comes to one day cricket (and let’s not mention any other sort of cricket for a while, okay?). Not that he exactly had to start with a bunch of mugs, but recent months have been particularly good ones for the Black Caps.

Last year we floated around seventh and eighth positions out of the eleven teams ranked by the ICC. Now, we're well above there. Sunday's win over Australia shifted us to second equal with Sri Lanka. In the last 21 matches the Black Caps played, they’ve won 17, lost 2, and had two end with no result (here's the last twenty). At home, their record is 19 wins of the last 25 matches, and 10 of the last 12. In short, New Zealand is good at this game.

Mouth-wateringly, both Sri Lanka and Australia are coming here later this summer. If we can beat them both – and form suggests we can – there's a very good chance that the World XI will be facing up to a team in black. The only problem goes back to the Australia-related assumptions mention earlier. The three-match series is scheduled for Melbourne.