ANY GIVEN MONDAY
Stick or twist?
The familiar conundrum of the sporting struggler is hanging over the Black Caps like a pregnant raincloud.
Stick and lose and Gary Stead, Kane Williamson and their underperforming comrades come home with phrases like "the definition of insanity is to do the same thing over and over and expect different results" ringing in their ears.
Twist and lose and they'll be accused of losing faith, of being unable to stick to a plan.
Do either and win and they'll be competing in a World Cup final.
Hell yeah, there's a lot at stake.
The most pivotal decisions ahead of tomorrow's semifinal against India at Old Trafford are likely to be made in the meeting room and at the toss (should Williamson get lucky with the coin-flip).
New Zealand have got the team they would have preferred – you can be pretty certain of that. That's no slight on the two-time world champions but unquestionably New Zealand's personnel and approach matches up better to India's than it does against Australia and England, who can bulldozer this Black Caps side with power.
If New Zealand were playing Australia or England in the semifinals they would have had no more than a puncher's chance – at current form perhaps they'd beat those two sides two times out of 10, three at a pinch.
Against India, who are so top heavy with the bat, those odds increase to three, maybe four, times out of 10.
They can beat them, but they need a lot of things to go their way starting with, I believe, abandoning any pretence of batting first.
There are few surprises to how India play.
When batting they expect big scores from their top three – Rohit Sharma, Virat Kohli and KL Rahul – followed by power from Rishabh Pant, MS Dhoni and Hardik Pandya. It's a beautifully simple game plan but one that can be thrown into chaos with two quick wickets.
Easier said than done, right, against the genius (just read his bat, it says so) of Kohli and Sharma, who has scored as many centuries at this tournament (five) than Colin Munro, Henry Nicholls, Jimmy Neesham, Colin de Grandhomme and Tom Latham have combined to score in their careers.
Inserting India is surely New Zealand's only realistic route to victory, even if conditions scream out "bat first".
New Zealand are just not set up to set the sort of target that would put India under even a modicum of pressure. The bulk of the order is in poor form, including whatever variant of an opening partnership they select. Over the course of this seemingly never-ending tournament, they have scored an anaemic 1674 runs at a rate of 5 per over.
Only once have New Zealand set a competitive target at this World Cup and defended it – and that was literally by a few inches against a West Indian team who finished ahead of only Afghanistan.
You cannot avoid what is staring you in the face and that is this: New Zealand's strengths at this World Cup have been few. Kane Williamson and Jimmy Neesham are the only ones who have batted to their potential.
They win games by strangling the opposition with their well-balanced seam attack and fall over the line chasing middling targets. Why would you suddenly think you're a 320+, target-setting team when you get, perhaps a little fortuitously, to the most important match of the tournament?
So that's the toss covered (and to be fair, everything is moot if they wake tomorrow to a typically leaden Manchester day – the forecast is for overcast – and Kohli wins the toss).
The issue of personnel is slightly trickier but essentially boils down to two calls: who opens with the out-of-form Martin Guptill, and which three do you pick from Matt Henry, Colin de Grandhomme, Mitchell Santner or Ish Sodhi to round out the attack with Trent Boult and Lockie Ferguson?
(The eagle-eyed will note no Tim Southee but he appears to be there for injury cover only.)
There is no right answer to the first problem. Everything they've done around the opening position has been dumb. They backed Colin Munro for a long, long time, only to lose their bottle when it was too late to do anything sensible about it.
Then they robbed Peter to pay Paul by trying to convert Henry Nicholls to an opener, despite the fact he was just starting to get his head nicely around how to bat in the middle order. Admittedly the sample sizes are limited, but Nicholls averages 55 at No 5 with a strike rate of 112; he averages 23 with an unwatchable strike rate of 62 as an opener.
Do the math.
The man in the squad – remembering that for various reasons Tim Seifert, George Worker and Will Young aren't – most capable of partnering Guptill is Tom Latham. He's scored more than 1500 runs as an opener at an average of 46 and a strike rate in the mid-80s. It's a better record than he's compiled from the relative safety of No 5, but evidently keeping wicket precludes him from opening.
It might look like straw-clutching altering course this late in a campaign but a little desperation wouldn't go astray after three poor batting performances on the bounce.
Unlike the batting, where every choice is a bad one, all the bowling options have merit.
De Grandhomme will surely get in because his late-overs hitting is important.
Given how important early wickets – at least two – will be against India, Henry appeals as a sensible choice, too, given he can hit the strings and nibble it away.
Sodhi, for mine, just hasn't done enough to convince that he's capable of getting good players out on these wickets. Santner has had a super-ordinary World Cup (four wickets, 5.14 economy rate) but he's a middle overs safety blanket for Williamson. Even if it looks like a turning track, is there enough to justify playing two specialist spinners?
New Zealand have walked a tightrope between being a top four team or nothing much at all. They teetered awfully over the final fortnight but had got far enough along the wire to grab on to semifinal safety before they fell.
They've been offered another chance to get it right.
Stick or twist?
THE MONDAY LONG READ ...
Basketball star Sue Bird's ode to her girlfriend, US World Cup hero and Trump critic Megan Rapinoe, was colourful, to say the least.
This piece, about her complicated relationship with her brother, was truly poignant.