When India would step out tomorrow to play the opening encounter of the World T20, they would face a team which has a reputation for being Giant Killers. New Zealand, for far too long has been labelled as “dark horses” in any major cricket tournament. Delve deep in statistics and there is a different picture altogether. While the world has always kept their focus on big teams like India, Australia, South Africa etc, New Zealand has often found itself away from the focus and definitely missing out in the list of favourites tipped to win the cup. And though it can be argued that they have only one major ICC trophy to show against their name, the fact is that Kiwis have more often than not ended up as either semi-finalists or finalists in ICC tournaments.
2015 was a big year for New Zealand cricket. They dominated the ODI World Cup like few other teams have in the past. Every opposition was brushed aside and who knows on any other given day, they would have gone on to lift the cup as well. A year later, they now have another opportunity to go for a rare title victory. Group 2, in which New Zealand is placed, is tougher of the two groups – consisting of heavyweights like Australia, India, Pakistan and Bangladesh. Out of these five teams, only two shall proceed to the semi-final stage of the world cup. New Zealand, surprisingly has been an underperformer at World T20 stage, seldom progressing beyond initial stage. The presence of a Tasmanian rival in the group could prove fodder enough for Kiwis to raise the bar. They would be a part of the first game of the tournament and would like to channelize their synergy towards making a bold statement to their counterparts.
Now, Nagpur is not a big ground and clearing boundaries is not much of a challenge there. The Kiwis have powerful strikers in Martin Guptill, Corey Anderson, Ross Taylor etc who are capable enough to script victories and have done that many a times in past. What they also have in their favour tomorrow is that stadiums in their own country are not big either and the bowlers know how to restrict the flow of runs in such a scenario. Though the last test match played here three months back showed that the track offers assistance only to spinners, sheer pace and accuracy of bowlers like Trent Boult, Tim Southee and Adam Milne could throw challenges to Indian batsmen, especially during early overs under the light when ball is moving. One major factor which proved to be the catalyst for the New Zealand team last year was Brendon McCullum, the legend who retired recently. This team would not be able to avail his services going into a tournament for which McCullum’s batting was tailor-made. In his absence, young Kane Williamson has been given charge to lead the team and if New Zealand has to repeat their heroics of 2015 World Cup, the current skipper has large boots to fill as far as leadership is concerned. There is no doubt that Kane Williamson is one of the finest batsmen in the game right now and with age on his side, this tournament could well mark the beginning of New Zealand’s era post McCullum. He would be well aware of the team’s dismal record in World T20s and would want to re-write history books. Often it has been said that great players do not make for great captains. Williamson has a calm head, a perfect technique and ability to pull off wins from jaws of defeat. He has proved his worth as a batsman and thus has been handed the difficult job of leading the team. But to stay there for long, he would need results to back his cause. Don’t be surprised if we see a gem from him against India, just to re-confirm that he has slipped into the role with utmost ease. Though much has been written or spoken about against India and Pakistan’s match, more politics than about sport, there has been far too less a focus on this game. I believe New Zealand is a team on a mission and if they secure a win under their belt tomorrow, it could well prove to be an eye-opener for other teams.