By Niall Anderson in Manchester
They weren't quite written off, but the Black Caps sure were significant underdogs going into their Cricket World Cup semifinal against India – and rightly so.
The Black Caps came into the semifinal on the back of three straight defeats – the first team in World Cup history to enter the knockout stage on such a barren run. A defeat to Pakistan preceded poor batting displays in a loss to Australia and a thrashing by England, leaving New Zealand limping into the final four via net run rate.
It was hardly the type of form that indicated a stunning victory over the top-ranked qualifier was on the cards, but the Black Caps' slide – from being unbeaten in their first six group games, to losing their last three – ultimately taught them a lesson that proved immensely valuable.
Black Caps captain Kane Williamson believed those defeats served a vital purpose – providing the side with an opportunity to re-assess where they had gone wrong, and the areas they needed to improve.
"There's so much more to winning and losing and I think it's really, really important that as a side you identify parts of matches where you may have not done things that well - and try and move away with a bit of clarity, so you are not too perhaps scarred or dented from just what the result was," explained Williamson.
"A couple of those games that we lost, I think we were able to look at them like that. The surfaces have been challenging. They have been variable throughout the game and at times have changed within the hundred overs.
"We came through in the fourth position, which is fine. And then we put out a much-improved performance in the semifinal."
That they did - perhaps in part thanks to the lessons they learned during their run of defeats. One reason for New Zealand's poor run at the end of the group stage was a result of being on the wrong end of quickly changing conditions, or – against Pakistan – having misread the surface entirely.
On a wicket at Old Trafford that was supposed to be the best in the tournament for batting, the Black Caps quickly realised that wasn't the case, and drawing on their experiences from their earlier defeats, did well to re-calculate and realise what score would be enough to challenge India.
Even coming into the second day of the rain-delayed match at 211-5 with just 23 balls remaining in their innings, Williamson knew that if they get close to 240, they could come away with a famous win.
"At the halfway stage, we wanted 240-250 and we knew we would be competitive if we got that because the surface played the way it did.
"We knew we had to run our twos well and use those last 23 deliveries as well as we could to get us to that point. And then it was a brilliant start with the ball.
"It was an outstanding way to try and kick things off and try and get into a position of strength and I thought the way the bowlers and the fielders operated throughout, on a big field, was a great effort."
Now, with a final against either Australia or England awaiting at Lord's, those earlier defeats could be drawn on again to provide added insight, with Williamson knowing they may have to be even better than they were today in order to take home the trophy.
"It is important for us to try and make small improvements moving into our next match. It's important that feet are on the ground - and we look forward to that challenge."