Christchurch: Upbeat Brendon McCullum believes the New Zealand side he leads into the World Cup opener against Sri Lanka in Christchurch on Saturday is the best prepared Kiwi team he has known.
The 33-year-old, heading into his fourth World Cup, is not prepared to pick a tournament winner but he has no doubt New Zealand will be in the mix at the end despite their world ranking of six.
Brendon McCullum. Pic/ AFP
After winning four of their past five ODI series, the feeling of hope that previous New Zealand teams clung to has been replaced by belief, he said. "It's the best prepared team, all round team, we tick most boxes," he said Friday as the team headed out to their final practice at the Hagley Oval before cricket's 44-day glamour tournament begins.
"The style of play is something we're comfortable with. We've had different personnel come in and out over the last little while but the game plan has always remained the same. "Overall we've got a nice mix of youth and experience. It's a team I'm really comfortable taking into a World Cup and we give ourselves a good chance."
Heading into the tournament New Zealand have comfortably won series against Sri Lanka and Pakistan in the past six weeks and beaten highly-rated South Africa in a warm-up game this week. They have shown they can win both defending and chasing a target, although McCullum conceded they had not faced Sri Lankan ace Lasith Malinga who is poised to return after a lengthy injury layoff.
"He makes a significant difference to their bowling line up, predominantly more at the back end of the game in terms of his death bowling," he said. "He's a phenomenal death bowler and he's going to be a factor which we will have to overcome if we're going to succeed in this game. "But if we can head into those final overs with a nice platform then hopefully we can put him under a bit of pressure. But certainly Sri Lanka is a stronger team for Lasith Malinga's involvement."
New Zealand's batting order appears solid, particularly with the high-scoring Kane Williamson and Ross Taylor at three and four if the big-hitting approach of openers McCullum and Martin Guptill does not pay off. The only selection difficulty is choosing three from a pace attack of five talented bowlers including Tim Southee, Trent Boult, Kyle Mills, Mitchell McClenaghan and Adam Milne. McCullum said the balance of the squad gave him a confidence he had not experienced at previous World Cups.
"You always hoped things would work out well but did you genuinely believe it? Maybe, maybe not. But, we believe (this) is a good cricket team and we believe we have a chance in this World Cup. But he tempered his enthusiasm saying he was loath to pick the eventual winner in a tournament that could well be decided by one piece of individual brilliance. "I guess that's the major fear. When you're dominating a game and you're in a position of authority and one of those match winners comes out and takes the game away from you. "It could be any one of the eight top nations."