Driven by confidence and self-belief, New Zealand emerging a forceful unit
New Zealand players seem to be having the time of their lives. (AFP Image)

MANCHESTER: If New Zealand‘s mood is any reflection of their World Cup 2019 campaign, the players are having the time of their lives. On Friday, a day before their match against the West Indies, the players divided themselves in two teams and got involved in a game of Sepak Takraw.

One team comprised Kane Williamson, Trent Boult, Martin Guptill, Ross Taylor, Matt Henry and Tom Latham the members of the 2015 World Cup campaign and the other had Mitchell Santner, Colin de Grandhomme, Ish Sodhi, Colin Munro, Henry Nicholls and James Neesham, guys playing their first World Cup. (ALSO READ: Can beleaguered West Indies rally past red-hot New Zealand?)

In the 40-odd minutes of playing time, there was laughter, cheering, teasing, case-taking and a celebration of every point. Besides, the support staff, including Craig McMillan and coach Gary Stead were playing their own separate the game at a different corner. History has it that New Zealand are a fun bunch of players and Friday was a classic example of it.

Why wouldn t they be? Unbeaten so far, close to a semi-final berth. Finalists in the previous World Cup, New Zealand have gotten off to a better start this time. They next face a beleaguered West Indies who have blown hot and cold before taking on Pakistan and two strong opponents in England and Australia.

“I think we talk a lot about our culture with the Black Caps. It’s really noticeable when you go away from it and come back to the team. And, yeah, you probably saw that in training today. It’s normally very similar to that with all the games we play at warm-ups,” fast bowler Lockie Ferguson said. (ALSO READ: West Indies would benefit from learning from Williamson Clive Lloyd)

“And we’re a good bunch of friends. And that’s the honest truth. And we get along really well. When we train like that and push each other, both at training, it means that we often can put it out on the park. But it’s an exciting bunch to be part of.”

But to begin with, Saturday pits them against a team Martin Guptill has fond memories of. Four years ago in Wellington, Guptill pummelled 237 against West Indies to help New Zealand to a 143-run win. Watching him from the stands was Ferguson, who today has become an integral part of the New Zealand side and with 11 wickets from four matches, is on fire. In fact, New Zealand s entire bowling unit is being talked up as perhaps the best bowling attack across all teams including India and Australia.

“I think we’ve been fortunate to have the conditions outside for sure. But the bowling in itself, we’ve got confidence for sure and conditions that support us. We’ve traditionally done really well. It’s exciting to have some good starts in the World Cup for sure, but tomorrow will be a new game and a new surface, and we’ll have to adjust to that one as well,” Ferguson said.

“I suppose we’ve had a reasonable start to the camp. But as I said it’s a game by game thing, particularly in the World Cup where every match is worth two points, and we need to front up every game and put our best foot forward. Tomorrow, it’s going to be a new day. We haven’t played yet here at Manchester and that looks like a good wicket. So we’ll have to start with both scores at zero and hopefully put our good foot forward.”

The 27 matches played so far in the World Cup have seen batsmen having a ball. the big names David Warner, Rohit Sharma, Joe Root and Eoin Morgan have lit up stadiums with centuries. In fact, Warner is right up there with 447 runs from six innings and along with Rohit, Root and Shakib Al Hasan, has two centuries already. Bowling to them on the flat wickets of England could be a nightmare for pacers, but not Ferguson, who takes it up as a challenge.

“I think the World Cup’s fantastic for that. The pressure I was feeling from being in the dressing room – Kane handled it so well out in the middle. And I guess at big tournaments, often the big players step up and it’s exciting when they do,” said Ferguson.

“Kane’s knock was an exceptional one, probably a really tough wicket at Birmingham. And he had his nerve all the way to the end and then got us across the line. And that’s the key, I think, in these big World Cups is that the team that holds the nerve the longest and gets across the line is most important.

“But it’s exciting, I think, from a batting point of view. There’s some big runs scored, some big hundreds. But also from a bowling point of view we’ve had 5-fers. We’ve teams thrown out for small totals. So it’s been one of those great World Cup where batters and bowlers have been having a really good competition through the whole comp and I’m sure it will continue to go through the rest of the games.”

New Zealand played the first real tough-and-go game of the World Cup against South Africa, when chasing 241, Kane Williamson dished out a classic century and led New Zealand to their fourth win of the tournament. Ross Taylor has been prolific touch too, taking off from where he’d left 2018. With a formidable bowling attack and a composed batting unit, New Zealand look threatening.

“I think we’ve got a lot of batters playing well on our team and for a long time. But it’s nice when Kane’s playing well, Ross is playing well. Our top has some experience here, and as a bowler it’s nice when they’re spending time at the crease. And particularly Kane’s knock last game of note is getting us across the line in a tough situation in a big match. So it’s exciting. It’s a good team to be part of. But, yes, very pleasing.”