Their three best seamers were out injured. The fourth shouldn't have played, but did, battling illness. Their best – and only – spinner was ruled out minutes before the first ball. And yet, the Black Caps bowlers have conjured up a remarkable victory over India to seal a similarly surprising series win.
In what has been a tour of improbable events, add another unexpected outcome onto the pile, as the Black Caps defended 273-8 to claim a 22-run victory and take an unassailable 2-0 lead in the best-of-three series.
To defend that total at Eden Park is impressive. To do it against a superb Indian batting lineup, even more so. And to do it given the situation they were in – and the mess they had inherited from the Twenty20 series – well, that takes some doing.
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Coming into the series with the Black Caps having lost eight straight matches in all formats, few would have picked that to change against a strong Indian side; one coming off ODI series wins over the West Indies and Australia, and that had claimed the last three ODI series against New Zealand.
Additionally, the Black Caps' lineup was far from full-strength – Trent Boult, Matt Henry and Lockie Ferguson were still sidelined, Kane Williamson was injured, Scott Kuggeleijn was sick, Ish Sodhi had joined New Zealand A, and Mitchell Santner was a late scratch, ruled out due to illness.
It left the Black Caps with a No 3 playing his second ODI, a No 8 who is usually a specialist batsman, a fast bowler on debut, two seamers who had been smashed in Hamilton, and no specialist spinners.
So, when they had collapsed to 197-8 batting first, with eight overs remaining, it wasn't a stretch to assume the series was headed to a decider. But, when Ross Taylor and Kyle Jamieson added 76 for the ninth wicket, a defendable total had been attained, and the improbable was about to take place.
Taylor's unbeaten 73 was valuable, but in fairness, he needed to make up for earlier mistakes, after being involved in two runouts which had kick-started the Black Caps' collapse. The hosts had looked superbly set at 157-2 through 29 overs, largely thanks to Martin Guptill breaking his ODI drought with an excellent run-a-ball 79. He looked likely for a century, only for Taylor to call him through for a disastrous quick single attempt, and then do the same to Jimmy Neesham five overs later.
Add in the dismissals of Tom Latham (trapped lbw sweeping), Colin de Grandhomme (slogging wildly), Mark Chapman (caught and bowled) and Tim Southee (see: de Grandhomme, Colin), and a terrible total looked on the cards.
Instead, Taylor stuck around, moving into the top 25 all-time ODI runscorers as he kept the Black Caps alive, while Jamieson bashed 25 not out off 24 balls to make a memorable start to his international debut.
It got better, though – with Jamieson playing a crucial role as the Black Caps bowlers produced their best performance of the summer.
Jamieson's wicket of Prithvi Shaw, in his first over, was part of a brilliant – and rather unexpected – effort from the second-string Black Caps seamers. After leaking 16 runs from his first eight balls, Hamish Bennett bounced back to remove Mayank Agarwal, while Southee battled through illness to claim the biggest scalp of them all – Virat Kohli, bowled, for 15.
It was questionable whether the sick Southee would even play tonight, but instead he got through 10 overs within the first half of the Indian innings, getting mass appreciation from his teammates as he walked off the park with 2-41.
With only five specialist bowlers available, stand-in skipper Latham did well to keep his best bowlers charging in when he felt India were vulnerable, with de Grandhomme removing KL Rahul, and Southee luring Kedar Jadhav into a flayed drive, straight to cover.
Shreyas Iyer loomed as the danger man, but a ball after bringing up a smooth 50, he needlessly took a wild swipe at Bennett, getting a thick edge through to Latham. The match looked over, but there was a twist – with the Black Caps, there always is – as Ravindra Jadeja (55) and Navdeep Saini (a career-best 45) added 76 for the eighth wicket.
Jamieson finally removed Saini, but suddenly, just 24 from 14 balls were required, and memories came flooding back. Neesham was up to the task though, effecting a run out and then taking the final wicket – Jadeja – and the undermanned Black Caps had won the game, won the series, and won back plenty of admirers.