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New Zealand embrace expectation and attention

February 27th, 2015 | by admin
New Zealand embrace expectation and attention
New Zealand

This World Cup has already been an unprecedented experience for the New Zealand side. It is not about to calm down as they face Australia at Eden Park in what is expected to be the biggest crowd for a cricket match in the country for more than 30 years.

The record attendance in New Zealand is 42,000, for the 1982 match between the same two sides, and that will not be broken on Saturday with Eden Park’s current capacity set at 40,000. Still, with the sharply tiered stands that now surrounded the stadium set to be packed, it is likely to be an atmosphere rarely felt by the home side.

That game in 1982 was a victory for New Zealand despite a century by Greg Chappell and also marked the debut of Martin Crowe, who will be inducted into the ICC’s hall of fame during the interval on Saturday. A repeat result this time will maintain the frenzy of excitement that has enveloped the New Zealand campaign.

The team has had time to soak up the mood since thrashing England in Wellington in front of a crowd in excess of 30,000. The side split up for a few days to take advantage of the week’s break, but the hype has not died down. When the squad went to an event in the Auckland city centre there was a throng of fans wanting autographs and selfies.

Embracing the mood of the nation has been a key part of New Zealand’s outlook during this tournament, and this match was a specific focus from very early in the planning stages as the team’s on-field results started to raise the level of expectation.

“We knew that was going to be the case, especially if we started the tournament well,” Brendon McCullum said of the focus on his team. “We tried to factor that into our plans a long time ago, for the whole squad, not just those on the field but the back-room staff as well.

“We’ve seen the way the public has reacted, the guys have loved it. Full houses are great and people driving past with flags hanging out of their cars. We’ve encouraged everyone to enjoy the tournament and lap up the chance to go out and about rather than a burden. “That was the beauty of preparation we had coming in. We were able to deeply ingrain that mentality among the group. The anticipation for this game is big but I feel the guys are in a good place because of the work we have done. I don’t think we will be overawed.”

New Zealand’s stability and confidence was reinforced as they named an unchanged XI for the fourth match in a row. McCullum, though, was also keen to stress that there is no more, or less, riding on this match than the three previous outings in the group stage.

“The points that are on offer tomorrow are no different to those against Sri Lanka, Scotland or England,” he said. “It is a big game, will be a great atmosphere and one the guys will remember for long time, but the points are still the same.”

New Zealand’s approach in the middle has been one of all-out – but calculated – aggression whether with the ball or bat. McCullum has been central to that, from driving his first ball of the tournament for four to slaying England last weekend and hurling himself around the field.

The outstanding performance against England, coupled with the implosion of Eoin Morgan’s team, means New Zealand have not yet been pushed in the tournament but that will not be a signal for them to alter the mindset for their toughest assignment so far.

“We have a blueprint which has worked very well for us and it’s how we do that in front of 40-odd thousand people,” McCullum said. “If we can do that I’ll be pretty pleased, win or lose. Obviously we want to win but we can only control the cards in our hand. If we do that we’ll be pretty happy.”

One of the areas where McCullum values having “control” is with the fielding. Their display against England was breathtaking and McCullum called it “the best I’ve seen from a New Zealand team.”

“Everyone wants to score runs and everyone wants to take wickets, but it’s not how the game works. Fielding you can control,” he said. “Fielding for us is non-negotiable. It’s a sign of attitude and shows how desperate we are as a team.”

The team may be desperate to achieve success, but they are equally aware of it not becoming so overbearing that they forget to enjoy the magnitude of what they are undertaking. “We are living the dream,” McCullum said, “playing a World Cup at home and tomorrow will be a great event – 40-odd thousand people and playing against Australia, it doesn’t get any better.”

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