Team New Zealand preview: Can the Kiwis prove the naysayers wrong in World Cup?

The Black Caps have never gone all the way and are aiming to go one better than four years ago when they fell to Trans-Tasman rival Australia in the final.

Williamson, Taylor — who is playing in his fourth World Cup — and Guptill have collectively amassed 526 ODI appearances between them.   -  ap

Can this be the year New Zealand finally breaks through at the World Cup? It has been consistently one of the strongest performers at cricket’s biggest event and continually punches above its weight.

But the Black Caps have never gone all the way and are aiming to go one better than four years ago when they fell to Trans-Tasman rival Australia in the final, although Brendon McCullum’s men stole the show with their humility perfectly complementing a high-octane game.

Despite that rich pedigree, New Zealand is fancied in the upcoming tournament behind favourite England and India — and even Australia and South Africa. The No. 4 ODI team in the world is used to being disrespected but could well prove the naysayers wrong.

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The Kiwis undeniably will miss McCullum, who gave the team such a swagger in 2015 with his belligerent batting and aggressive captaincy.   -  getty images

 

It undeniably will miss McCullum, who gave the team such a swagger in 2015 with his belligerent batting and aggressive captaincy. But his successor Kane Williamson is a worthy replacement as New Zealand’s talisman. He may be more understated than McCullum, but a composed Williamson ensures the team is never rattled — an invaluable characteristic during the suffocating pressure of knockout matches.

There is always the fear that certain teams — South Africa and Pakistan spring to mind — might implode but New Zealand won’t. It certainly won't get down on itself. The opposition will have to beat it.

Much of that self-confidence has to do with New Zealand’s continuity. This is a veteran team with most of the core from 2015 still around. The top order comprises seasoned batsmen — Martin Guptill, Henry Nicolls, Ross Taylor, Colin Munro and Williamson.

Williamson, Taylor — who is playing in his fourth World Cup — and Guptill have collectively amassed 526 ODI appearances between them.

Guptill, without McCullum, will be relied upon to get the innings rolling. If he starts off hot, New Zealand is tough to beat with players such as Taylor and Williamson able to bat around him. But if Guptill fails, the Kiwis can often get caught in quicksand and the innings tails off.

In a World Cup where huge scores are expected, New Zealand needs Guptill — who stunningly scored 237 not out four years ago against the West Indies — to be at his destructive best.

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As it always seems to boast, New Zealand has a slew of highly-rated all-rounders. Colin de Grandhomme, Jimmy Neesham and Mitchell Santner loom as pivotal players for the side. Santner, in particular, is a wily left-arm orthodox spinner and is also a handy lower-order batsman.

As it increasingly does in limited-overs cricket, spin will play a major role at the World Cup and Santner will have to keep his cool under an expected rampage against batsmen looking to attack the small boundaries.

Perhaps Santner’s greatest attribute is his calmness and he won’t get flustered even amid the cauldron.

Leg-spinner Ish Sodhi will be on standby and has performed well on the big stage in T20 competitions. But he can, sometimes, be erratic and expensive, which could prove fatal in the high stakes of the World Cup.

For New Zealand to go deep in the tournament, its vaunted pace attack will need to perform. Trent Boult and Tim Southee dazzled four years ago on home soil, and will hope to replicate that success in UK conditions that should suit their renowned seam movement.

The two have become such a high quality pairing over the years in an ideal left/right-arm combination. Much rests on their shoulders with the other quicks highly promising but somewhat unproven on the big stage.

Speedsters Lockie Ferguson and Matt Henry will likely be competing for the third seamer’s role. They both can do a lot of damage and loom as X-factors. Conversely, if they leak runs and struggle the burden will be felt on Boult and Southee.

Boult will be relied upon for early wickets with his menacing left-arm swing.   -  getty images

 

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Players to watch

Kane Williamson: There is an argument to be made that Guptill is the team’s most important batsman due to his ability to single-handedly destroy teams. But if your life depended on it, would you want anyone else batting than the ice-cool Williamson?

The pressure does not faze Williamson, who performs better under the spotlight. This tournament looms as pivotal for his legacy. He is part of the ‘Big Four’ batsmen alongside Virat Kohli, Steve Smith and Joe Root but Williamson — playing for a smaller cricket nation — feels somewhat overshadowed by those star players who headline cricket’s most powerful countries.

If Williamson stars at the World Cup — and especially if he leads New Zealand to glory — then his legacy lifts significantly. He will do what none of those legendary figures have done – lead his country to a World Cup triumph.

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Trent Boult: Boult will be relied upon for early wickets with his menacing left-arm swing. But he is coming off a disappointing IPL where he struggled in limited opportunities — much like his sidekick Southee. The veteran spearheads are too experienced to get downtrodden but undoubtedly it isn’t ideal preparation for such key bowlers.

Southee has somewhat struggled in white ball cricket recently ensuring much pressure is on Boult. New Zealand will be desperate for the tandem to simultaneously fire — like they so seamlessly meshed four years ago — but you can at least count on Boult to be up to scratch when it matters the most.

Boult doesn’t need favourable conditions to be dangerous but a hint of movement often makes him unplayable — as he memorably displayed as equal-highest wicket-taker in 2015.

Boult might just prove that he is a World Cup specialist in the upcoming edition.