New Zealand have always maintained an envious record in ICC tournaments. Since Brendon McCullum transformed them from an also-ran to a dominant force in world cricket under his leadership, Kane Williamson has almost successfully accomplished the task of taking them to the next level.
Under Williamson’s captaincy, the Black Caps beat India to win the inaugural World Test Championship in 2021 though their luck seems to have not favoured them in the white-ball format. In 2019, they lost a closely fought ODI World Cup final against England at Lord’s and then failed to match up to Australia in last year’s T20 World Cup final in Dubai.
New Zealand lost the tri-series final in Christchurch on Friday but it is the form of their top-order which should bring about a sigh of relief to coach Gary Stead. More importantly, Williamson seems to have found his touch back at No.3. That should be good news ahead of the showpiece event though Devon Conway could turn out to be their trump card.
New Zealand captain Kane Williamson. Getty Images
The opener top-scored in the tri-series with 233 runs from five matches and is capable of setting the tone early in the innings. Glenn Philips has also proven that he is capable of setting the stands on fire with a strike rate of 180.55 in the five matches.
They begin their campaign against their Trans-Tasman rivals on October 22 — a replay of last year’s final — and their next big match will be against England, their penultimate group clash. By then the semi-final picture is sure to be much clearer and it could determine both sides’ chances of reaching the knockout stages.
Lockie Ferguson. Getty Images
New Zealand’s biggest advantage will be their familiarity with the conditions, their poor T20 record in Australia notwithstanding. They have been a settled unit and had very few boxes to tick before the World Cup. Williamson’s men showed that they are capable of winning even when batting first by smashing 208/5 in their last league match against Bangladesh.
While their top-order depends heavily on the experienced Martin Guptill and Williamson, Daryl Mitchell and Conway continue to be under-rated. “Last year... we played some really good cricket, but couldn’t quite get over the line at the end,” New Zealand coach Stead said recently. “With the nucleus of that squad retained... we should go into the tournament with plenty of optimism.”
Besides their batting, it is their balanced bowling attack that will make rivals wary of New Zealand. The experienced duo of Trent Boult and Tim Southee will be complemented by Lockie Ferguson, who has emerged as a dependable T20 specialist. He has won several matches with his ability to pick wickets while containing the run flow in the franchise leagues and international arena.
For variety, there will be the spin of Ish Sodhi though his effectiveness against subcontinent teams will be up for debate. Even if the bowling lets them down occasionally, their fielding will match the best in the business and is enough to win you matches in this format.
Devon Conway. Getty Images
Mitchell’s fitness is a headache for them ahead of the tournament though. The all-rounder is best remembered for his heroics in the semi-final against England (72 not out) in the last edition of the tournament. He was ruled out of the tri-series with a fractured finger.
With Mitchell’s hand in a cast for at least two weeks, Stead said that they would take a call later. “Daryl’s become a really important player to our T20 unit and we’re certainly going to miss his all-round skills and versatility... we need to take some time to consider Daryl’s recovery timeline and his potential involvement in the tournament,” the coach said.
Another factor that will worry Williamson is their inability to win the big moments. If they can maintain their cool, especially in big matches, New Zealand have the ability to go the distance this time.
New Zealand Cricket agreed to release Trent Boult from his central contract this year so that he can spend more time with his family while also making himself available for franchise leagues around the world. However, he remains their go-to man in desperate situations.
The left-arm pacer can make early inroads with the new ball and this was evident in Dubai last year when he ended with the most wickets (13) for any fast bowler in the tournament. At 33, he forms a potent pace bowling attack with Southee and still possesses accuracy with his control, discipline and the angle he generates.
⚫ Runners-up: 2021
⚫ Semi-finalists: 2007, 2016