New Zealand: Will the Kiwi fly?

New Zealand is a well-balanced side and it all hinges on how it acclimatises to Indian conditions.

Martin Guptill... exciting batsman.   -  GETTY IMAGES

Colin Munro will be one of the key explosives in the Black Caps' arsenal.   -  Getty Images

With New Zealand needing 45 runs off one ball, Glenn McGrath and his skipper Ricky Ponting were curiously in the middle of a discussion with umpire Billy Bowden. Seconds later, McGrath, instead of his customary long run-up, took just two-three steps away from the crease and pretended to bowl an underarm delivery, making a snarky reference to the infamous Trevor Chappell incident. The wicketkeeper, Adam Gilchrist, couldn’t stop laughing. Neither could the 30,000 (approx) gathered at Eden Park, Auckland. Umpire Bowden promptly showed a red card to McGrath.

It was that kind of a cricket match.

“I think it is difficult to play seriously,” said Ponting after his team’s win. But he added: “If it does become an international game then I’m sure the novelty won’t be there all the time.”

With that, the first Twenty20 International was born in New Zealand.

As Punter betted, a decade and five T20 World Cups later, T20, indeed, has lost its novelty. But New Zealand would want to claim the biggest prize of the format that was born in its backyard.

New Zealand’s 2016 World T20 campaign begins in Nagpur with a battle against the host, India. With Australia and former champion Pakistan also in the same group, along with a qualifier (yet to be announced), the Kiwis will have to be at their best from the beginning to get to the semis, a stage where they last reached in 2007.

New Zealand last met India in a World T20 match in 2007, which it won. Ever since, the sides have played three T20I matches with New Zealand winning every time. However, India seems to get a performance boost when it plays a global event cheered by its countryfolk. Also, the team has won seven of its last eight T20Is (as on February 29).

Against its trans-Tasman neighbour, Australia, New Zealand has a lone win against four losses. But the last time the two sides met in a T20I was in 2010. Hence, it is tough to gauge how the match will play out when the sides meet in Dharamsala.

The Black Caps beat Pakistan 2-1 in a three-match T20I series at home in January. But the conditions will be vastly different in this part of the world and New Zealand’s prospects in the tournament will also hinge on how well it acclimatises.

“With the Indian conditions in mind, the plan has always been to take three front-line spinners and all three bring something different,” said New Zealand coach Mike Hesson while unveiling the squad.

Out of the three spinners — Ish Sodhi, Nathan McCullum and Mitchell Santner — Sodhi and Santner have a combined experience of 10 T20Is and both have never played in the sub-continent. The 35-year-old McCullum, meanwhile, has played in the IPL and will have a tip or two for his juniors in the spin department.

“It’s great to have Nathan available again and his experience in the foreign conditions will be invaluable. Both he and Mitch Santner have the ability to bowl in the first six overs, which gives Kane (Williamson) a number of options to work with,” said Hesson.

Tim Southee, Trent Boult, Adam Milne and Mitchell McClenaghan make a formidable pace quartet, but none has been particularly impressive in Indian conditions.

The batting department has skipper Kane Williamson, Ross Taylor and Martin Guptill, who has scored the most in T20Is after Brendon McCullum (who New Zealand will miss the most). Henry Nicholls, Grant Elliott, Corey Anderson and Colin Munro are also not known to treat the cricket ball with gentle care while they bat.

Fielding is a skill that’s inherent in New Zealand’s cricketers and all the ‘ones’ and ‘twos’ they save will sum up to a big difference in tight games.

The team:

Kane Williamson (captain), Martin Guptill, Ross Taylor, Henry Nicholls, Grant Elliott, Corey Anderson, Colin Munro, Luke Ronchi (wicketkeeper), Mitchell Santner, Nathan McCullum, Tim Southee, Trent Boult, Mitchell McClenaghan, Adam Milne and Ish Sodhi.

Players with punch:

Martin Guptill: His last five T20I scores: 42, 87 (not out), 2, 63, 58. His highest T20I score: 101. He is T20I’s highest run-getter among active players. He has scored a fifty off 15 balls in T20s. Oh, also, he hit 237 in an ODI last year. The numbers say that Martin Guptill will be one of the key players to watch out across all teams; not just New Zealand.

Colin Munro: The 28-year-old Durban-born Munro will be one of the key explosives in the Black Caps’ arsenal. Munro finished as the highest run-getter in New Zealand’s domestic T20 tournament, scoring 366 in 10 innings with a strike rate of over 175. Afterwards, he smashed a 14-ball fifty against Sri Lanka in Auckland.

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