New Zealand cricket team and the term ‘dark horses’ are two perfect bystanders of the former’s World Cup quest over the years. It is just formidable that if South Africa are chokers and Pakistan are unpredictable, the Kiwis will and have been the dark horses.
It isn’t that the Black Caps are only the best among the rest. Better! They have always been termed as the ‘giant killers’. Having played five semi-finals since the inception of the World Cup, it took them four decades to finally have a stern go at the grandest prize when they faced Australia in the final four years ago.
The fate, as it seemed, was oblique; crooked towards their neighbours and opponent of the game, Australia. It was a tenure of another disappointment. But, was that a cessation of being branded as the dark horses?
As we head into another edition of the World Cup extravaganza, are New Zealand once again the underdogs? In all honesty, the Kiwis divide opinions. While some believe they are the favourites, having acquired the fourth spot in ICC ODI rankings, there’s a section which slots them behind the likes of England (firm favourites), India and South Africa.
New Zealand will resume their sketchy World Cup quest against Sri Lanka on June 1, and since the last edition of the tournament, they have enjoyed a superior outing against their opponent. In fact, their record against the last five teams (Pakistan, Bangladesh, West Indies, Sri Lanka and Afghanistan) in the rankings since 2015 is something to take note of.
The Black Caps have played 28 matches against the aforementioned opponents since 2015 and have won 24 of them, losing just four. It is their record against the top half teams, however, which remains an area of concern. Since the last World Cup, they have played 41 matches against top-ranked countries (England, South Africa, India and Australia) and have won mere 15 of them, while losing 25.
It is the individual performances though on the back of which the team can build upon a firm challenge like the previous edition. Regardless of the unpredictability of English conditions over the years, Williamson has been the most successful batsman in England since 2015, having scored a whopping 640 runs in mere eight games at an average of 80.00. Eight fifty-plus scores in his last 10 matches in England speaks volume. Furthermore, His teammate Ross Taylor follows suit with 523 runs in eight games at 74.71.
The best thing about this New Zealand team is the fact that the core which was a part of the final four years back is still intact. Baring McCullum and Daniel Vettori, the other core members are still going to be a part of it. However, the last time they played in an ICC event (2017 Champions Trophy) without the duo, they ended up being knocked out of the tournament in as early as the group stage without even registering a victory.
After all, experience of the highest level is the key. Why do you think Liverpool lost the Champions League final last year?
New Zealand, having carried a great record against a few sides, can yet again reach the semi-final, but the uncertainty will surround soon after. And if they are to get anything positive out of the tournament, the likes of Trent Boult and Tim Southee will need to extract every ounce from the pitch, a pitch which is expected to assist them in their seam.
Withal, it is safe to say this is arguably the final wave of Kiwis’ very own Galactico era. And as far as the argument over them being the dark horses is concerned, let’s just brand them as the Wolverhampton Wanderers of the ICC Cricket World Cup.