Cricket: Twose proves equal to the test

World Cup: Unfancied Kiwis strike out for semi-finals at India 251-6 New Zealand 253-5 New Zealand win by 5 wkts
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IT WILL have been a sweet shaft of sunlight that filtered through Stephen Fleming's hotel room curtains yesterday morning. When the tipsters pored over this World Cup, nobody fancied the Kiwis. Dark horses, maybe, but nothing more and, even with the contenders down to four, it still seems they are only making up the numbers. But Fleming, the New Zealand captain, is happy for it to stay that way.

The evening before, once an untimely thunderstorm had cleared, New Zealand had clinched their place in the semi-finals at the expense of an Indian side already condemned to an early ticket home. As the Indian supporters celebrated noisily, despite their team's demise, Fleming's team had justified the whispered self-belief that has been their hallmark.

"We've not had a great press here," Fleming said, referring pointedly to accusations that his side's cricket has lacked colour and character. "But we are quite happy to achieve quietly in the background.

"We set our own stepping stones but nobody expected too much from us so there has been no pressure."

It had not been a great match, as have too few in this competition in the unusual absence of the tight finishes one-day cricket needs. Ajay Jadeja excepted, India's batsmen had disappointed and departed, one-by- one, to the extraordinary accompaniment of a stuffed shirt on the public address asking spectators to make less noise. Some carnival.

Even so, the Indian total was big enough to require New Zealand to apply themselves diligently and might have proved more taxing had the Indian attack put them under pressure when it mattered. Eschewing the spectacular, Matthew Horne (76) solidly set a tone which Roger Twose (60 not out), once of Warwickshire, picked up, paving the route with assuredness. Still, 20 runs were needed off the last three overs, but then an awful six balls by Javagal Srinath to Adam Parore cut the target by 15 and effectively handed victory to New Zealand.

Twose, the man of the match, had spent the previous day sitting an exam paper in his hotel room (he is studying for a degree in business management). Had he not chosen to emigrate in 1995, he believes he might have played for England, although passing time is lending embellishment to his reputation. He was a county player worth his salt but only a good journeyman, in truth. Indeed, asked how this performance compared with "some of his great innings for Warwickshire", even he seemed troubled to recall many.

But, blessed with physical and mental strength, he is a reliable player in a crisis and since he stepped up to international cricket with his adoptive country the feeling persists that he is one that got away. Interestingly, though, he says that it was playing county cricket that taught him how to deal with pressure.

Pressure of a somewhat more intense kind now awaits India's captain. Mohammad Azharuddin, who must ponder how much more patience the Indian board can extend to him now that he has failed in three World Cups. He has few supporters left and his suggestion that critics of the team should take account of a heavy and draining programme of one-day matches will be scoffed at.

A shambolic defeat to Zimbabwe in the opening phase, when India needed only four runs from two overs, haunts Azhar and will continue to do so, more so following comments from the former captain Sunil Gavaskar at the weekend.

Gavaskar, speaking on Indian television, said he had "information" that India's reckless loss of their last three wickets could be blamed on instructions from the Indian dressing room. He is demanding an inquiry.