The Black Caps booked a semifinal spot at the World T20 tournament today with a 22-run victory over Pakistan. Herald cricket writers David Leggat and Andrew Alderson answer three key questions following the side's third straight win.
1) Which side would New Zealand prefer to meet in the semifinals?
Andrew Alderson: Probably Sri Lanka. They beat them 2-0 in T20 internationals over summer. The first match in Mt Maunganui was a tight contest which the hosts won by three runs, the other was a nine-wicket trouncing in Auckland. India presents different conditions, but the way this New Zealand players and their backroom strategists seized the initiative this tournament, they have every reason to feel confident. It is worth noting that although the personnel have altered, each of their potential semi-final opponents (Sri Lanka, England, West Indies and South Africa) were beaten at the World Cup last year. In fact, tomorrow marks the anniversary of the semi-final joust with the Proteas at Eden Park.
David Leggat: Sri Lanka, who are a rabble at the moment. That said, if I'm Kane Williamson or Mike Hesson I'm not particularly fearing anyone right now. They will figure they can handle the West Indies, unless Chris Gayle gets away on them, but New Zealand have a decent record against the big lefthander. They know South Africa, respect them, but have a certain night at Eden Park last summer to reflect on; and England could be the intriguing one. But it has to be Sri Lanka as first pick.
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2) Are we going to see net bowlers Tim Southee or Trent Boult at all?
Andrew Alderson: Unlikely, barring injury, if the three pool matches are an indication. The Black Caps are employing a similar formula to that which succeeded in the World Cup last year. To imbue the players with confidence, I expect limited tinkering to their core XI. Mitchell McClenaghan and Nathan McCullum might alternate, depending on conditions. Each of the remaining potential venues - Kolkata (v Bangladesh and potentially the final) and Mumbai or Delhi (for the semi-final) - are relatively large grounds, meaning their spin trio might deliver an encore if the pitch warrants it. Having Boult and Southee hungry in the nets is no bad thing, plus you could argue they will be fresher rather than rustier if they get an opportunity after a punishing Australian test series.
David Leggat: Remember the World Cup last summer. New Zealand made just one change throughout the tournament, Mitch McClenaghan getting one outing against Bangladesh. No thoughts of keeping everyone match ready then, and it worked. This might be another case of that policy. A look at today's pitch at Mohali and it would have been easy to put at least one of Boult or Southee in, so different was it to the strips at Nagpur and Dharamsala. That suggests a 'let's stick with what's working' attitude.
3) Do the Black Caps have a weakness?
Andrew Alderson: Well, it certainly hasn't been the fielding, the bowling, the opening stand of Kane Williamson and Martin Guptill or the overall attitude fighting back in three games they could have lost. The middle order of Colin Munro, Corey Anderson, Ross Taylor, Grant Elliott and Luke Ronchi could come under threat if suitable pressure is applied. However, one or more of them has delivered enough in each innings so far to post winning totals. Even if they don't perform, the batting eyes of Mitchell Santner, Nathan McCullum, Adam Milne, Mitchell McClenaghan and Ish Sodhi offer an insurance policy capable of accumulating boundaries in the latter overs.
David Leggat: Not a weakness as such, although the middle order can be - and certainly has been on occasions - wonky. Luke Ronchi has had a couple of brief, but handy innings and Ross Taylor's 36 off 23 balls today was so timely, giving him a run ahead of the semifinal. Mitch Santner made a run-a-ball 18 in the grim attrition of Nagpur and Grant Elliott's 27 off 20 balls was really important against Australia. But so far, so good and right now it's hard to be hyper critical of any aspect.
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