Cricket World Cup Co-hosts New Zealand will have to see off an unpredictable and explosive West Indies team in Wellington on Saturday, if they are to set up a heavyweight semifinal with South Africa. New Zealand won all six matches in their group to cruise through to the quarterfinals and raise expectations that 2015 could be the year where the Black Caps, at the very least, finally make it through to a World Cup final for the first time. But before they contemplate a seventh semifinal, New Zealand must be overcome at the Wellington Regional Stadium.
In contrast to New Zealand, the West Indies’ progress has been far less smooth. In what has become a dispiriting trend in recent years, the team came into the tournament under a cloud of political unrest, particularly after Dwayne Bravo was replaced as captain by 23-year-old Jason Holder and then left out of the World Cup squad altogether, along with Kieron Pollard. When the West Indies then lost their opening match to Associate nation Ireland, the tournament looked set to deliver nothing but turmoil and disappointment.
Instead they produced big wins over Pakistan and Zimbabwe, with the latter victory containing a first ever double century in a World Cup by star man Chris Gayle. There was still no sign of any consistency, with heavy defeats to South Africa and India following, before they got the emphatic win they needed over the United Arab Emirates to secure a last-eight berth.
“It’s a huge thing for us,” Holder said of a potential quarterfinal win. “People wrote us off at the beginning of the tournament, people didn’t expect us to make it to the quarterfinal stage, and we’re here. For us we’re just going to go out all guns blazing tomorrow just giving our all. New Zealand can be beaten, we’ve beat them in the past in our last series here, and no doubt we’ll be looking to beat them tomorrow.”
The West Indies drew a One-Day series on New Zealand shores 2-2 last year, and are expected to have Gayle battle through a back injury to take his place in the lineup. Yet the home side will undoubtedly start as strong favorites to make it through to the last four. Only fellow co-hosts Australia gave them any real trouble in Pool A, when they came through a nail-biting encounter in Auckland to win by a single wicket. The tone has been set by the aggressive play of captain and opener Brendon McCullum, who has racked up 257 runs so far in the competition. They have been impressive with the ball, too, with Tim Southee and Trent Boult supported by the continued reliability of veteran spinner Daniel Vettori. New Zealand won’t play away from home until a possible final against either Australia or India, and McCullum is keen for the team to continue winning and soaking up the enthusiastic local support.
“it’s the greatest time of our lives,” he said. “Our guys are certainly enjoying this tournament, enjoying the involvement that we’ve had it and the success we’ve had along the way. The brand of cricket we’ve played has really captivated New Zealand and is starting to make people around the world sit up and take notice. We love the fact that we’re playing in front of big crowds, and having the support we’ve had from our country so far. Hopefully it continues for another week or so yet. It’s one of the things you don’t’ want to finish any time soon.”
Match time: Saturday, 2 p.m. local time. Friday, 9 p.m. ET.
TV channel: DISH Network, Mediacom and Time Warner Cable subscribers can watch all matches via pay per view. More info here.
Live streaming info: New Zealand vs. West Indies, as well as all remaining matches will be available via ESPN's digital subscription service, costing $39.99.