Photo: Marty Melville/AFP
Few would have anticipated New Zealand to secure four points from their first two games in the ICC World T20 tournament against strong opponents like India and Australia, especially in the absence of their talismanic leader Brendon McCullum.
Beating all odds, no team has read the conditions better than the Kiwis have in the tournament so far. Kane Williamson surprised everyone by dropping a seamer and picking three spinners against MS Dhoni's side. The move turned out to be a masterstroke as the spinners wreaked havoc on India to secure a 47-run win for New Zealand.
If their win against India raised eyebrows, New Zealand's thrilling eight-run victory against 2015 World Champions Australia highlighted their intent and has made them one of the favourites to win the title this year. Playing with two spinners, the Kiwis successfully managed to defend their total of 142 runs.
Though their batting unit can still improve on their recent performances, the consistency shown by New Zealand's bowling attack has truly elevated their game in the tournament. Currently leading Group 2 with two consecutive wins, expect Kane Williamson's men to take the field with similar flair and passion when they take on Pakistan on 22 March.
New Zealand's batting unit has managed to post 126 and 142 in the two games so far. The totals may not seem convincing, but it turned out to be a little too much for the powerful batting line-ups of India and Australia.
Martin Guptill and Kane Williamson form a deadly opening pair while the swashbuckling Colin Munro is just one knock away from finding his blistering form. The availability of Corey Anderson, Ross Taylor and Grant Elliott provides the much-needed stability to the New Zealand middle-order.
Also, Luke Ronchi and all-rounder Mitchell Santner placed lower down the order supply an adequate depth to the batting of Kane Williamson's side.
The New Zealand bowlers seem to have mastered the art of handling pressure, especially when their batting unit has failed to make an impact in the tournament. The spin trio of Ish Sodhi, Nathan McCullum and Mitchell Santner shared nine wickets amongst themselves in the first game against India.
Santner, who took 4-11 against India, continued his fine form in the second game against Australia and bagged two crucial wickets of Steve Smith and David Warner. Mitchell McClenaghan, who didn't play the first match, made full use of the opportunity against the Aussies where he took 3-17 in three overs.
Having missed out with the bat against Australia, Corey Anderson made his presence felt with the ball by taking 2-29 in his spell of four overs. Sodhi, too, played his part in the second match with the wicket of dangerous Glenn Maxwell to spoil Australia's chances.
Having extracted revenge against Australia for their 2015 World Cup final defeat, New Zealand is likely to make it three-out-of-three when they take on Pakistan tomorrow. A win could also help the Kiwis to secure their place in the last four.
Kane Williamson's men are backed at 5/8 by Betfair to maintain their 100 per cent record in the tournament while Shahid Afridi-led Pakistan are priced at 13/10 to bounce back and beat the Kiwis.
Martin Guptill and Williamson are evenly priced at 11/4 to emerge as top-scorers for the Black Caps. Middle-order batsmen Corey Anderson and Ross Taylor are priced at 6 and 7, respectively.
Mohammed Hafeez is backed to lead the run charts for Pakistan at 10/3, with Ahmed Shehzad and Sharjeel Khan both priced at 7/2. Shoaib Malik, who top scored against India with 26, is placed at 9/2 to repeat the feat against the Black Caps.
- Edited by Aishwarya Yerra