New Zealand team T20 2016
New Zealand have reached semi-finals of ICC Cricket World Cup seven times and once in World T20. © Getty Images

If India, New Zealand, Australia, Pakistan and Bangladesh face each other in the same group, it becomes difficult for a cricket fan to bet his money on. While India and Pakistan are former World T20 champions, Bangladesh have been displaying a remarkable performance in the shorter formats for a year or two. On the other hand, New Zealand and Australia battled in the final of ICC World Cup 2015. Thus, given the home advantage, everyone envisaged the hosts India to be the table-toppers of this ‘group of death’ of ICC World T20 2016. But, when the story unfolded, the Black Caps were way ahead in the race. Live Cricket Scorecard: England v New Zealand, T20 World Cup 2016, 1st Semi-Final at Delhi

New Zealand’s clinical performance against India in the tournament opener at Nagpur made everyone sit up and take notice. As soon as the umpire said ‘play’, Martin Guptill scythed the very first ball of the tournament soaring over the bowler’s head, and thus began New Zealand’s undisputed journey. The way the Black Caps approached the game was a proof that they mean business and will leave no stone unturned to gain a foothold in the semi-final.

What took the cricketing world by storm was the decision to drop fiery pacers Trent Boult and Tim Southee. The track was a square-turner. New Zealand captain Kane Williamson read it right and opted for two extra spinners—Ish Sodhi and Mitchell Santner—along with Nathan McCullum. ‘Horses for courses’, they believed in.

India’s Ravichandran Ashwin and Ravindra Jadeja spun things India’s way and restricted the Black Caps to 126. What looked like a paltry total turned out to be a competitive one. McCullum, Santner and Sodhi had Indian batsmen in trance with wizardly spell. The spinners bowled 11 overs, conceded only 44 runs and picked up 9 wickets. The pre-tournament favourites India were left bewildered by the Black Caps’ attacking brand of cricket. Also read: T20 World Cup 2016: Why England can edge out New Zealand in semi-finals

New Zealand’s next game was against the arch rivals Australia at Dharamsala. The curators dished out a sticky wicket. Williamson played left-arm pacer Mitchell McClenaghan instead of McCullum. Williamson won the toss and elected to bat first. Guptill, Williamson and Colin Munro provided a breezy start and were looking good for a 180-plus score. However, Australia’s remarkable bowling display in the middle overs limited them to 142.

New Zealand bowlers emulated what the Australians did: take the pace off the ball. The decision to pick McClenaghan paid off, as he took 3 for 17 with his off-cutters. Santner continued his stellar performance and picked up 2 wickets. Eventually, Australia fell short by 8 runs.

One more game and New Zealand were on the verge to book a place in the semi-finals. They took on the wounded Pakistan at Mohali. There was no change in their line-up as well as their approach. They outplayed Pakistan by 22 runs, thanks to Guptill’s 48-ball 80 and Santner’s 2 for 29.

New Zealand went for the kill in the contest against Bangladesh at the same venue, winning it by 75 runs. With this victory, New Zealand became the only team in the Super-10 stage to enter the semi-final without tasting a defeat. Also read: England v New Zealand, T20 World Cup 2016, 1st Semi-Final at Delhi, Preview: All-conquering Black Caps on verge of history

New Zealand have superior T20 batsmanship at their disposal. There’s solidity and clarity in Williamson’s captaincy. And they took nothing for granted, and were head and shoulders above top-notch teams such as India and Australia. Nonetheless, New Zealand are well aware of their semi-final woes. They have reached semi-finals of ICC Cricket World Cup seven times and once in World T20. Hence, it’s imperative they hold their nerves and come good in the semi-final against England as well.

(Kaustubh S. Mayekar, a reporter at CricketCountry, played cricket at U-16 level. Like his idol Rahul Dravid, he often shadow-practises cricket shots. His Twitter handle is @TheCricKnight.)