NZ an outside chance at T20 World Cup
Rightly or wrongly, whenever the New Zealand team goes to a limited overs world cup, there's an assumption that they'll make the semifinals.
No matter how ropey the lead-up form or how far down the ICC rankings the Black Caps might languish, they always seem to get a result or two and find themselves in the final four.
New Zealand come into this edition of the World Twenty20 Cup, in Sri Lanka, ranked fifth. And once again there's every reason to expect that they'll have risen above that by the time the tournament finishes in three weeks time.
Provided they can get out of their group.
With Bangladesh and Pakistan for company, New Zealand find themselves in the strongest of the four pools. They meet Bangladesh on Friday, in the first of their group matches, followed by Pakistan two days later.
Wins in both would see them through, but a win and a loss might leave a nervous wait to see what happens in the concluding group match between Bangladesh and Pakistan on September 25.
Now coach of Wellington, Australian Jamie Siddons spent four years in charge of Bangladesh.
He knows better than anyone that no result can be taken for granted when there are sub-continental teams involved.
"Against our New Zealand boys, they [Bangladesh] are going to be very competitive with their left-arm orthodox [bowlers]," Siddons said.
"History shows you that there's a little bit of an issue with the left-arm offies and Bangladesh will be chock-full of them."
Shakib Al Hasan and Abdur Razzak have both caused New Zealand trouble in the past and were part of the Siddons-coached Bangladesh team which beat the Black Caps 4-0 in a one-day series not so long ago.
‘They'll be competitive Bangladesh; they've got a good history in Twenty20 cricket and have a played a lot lately. They've got some dangerous players in Tamim Iqbal, Shakib and Mushfiqur [Rahim] the wicketkeeper.
"They're world-class Twenty20 players and big hitters."
Pakistan are, arguably, even more dangerous. But predicting how they'll go from one match to the next can be problematic.
Siddons views them as an emotional team and, if the mood's high, they'll play well.
"But if they fail, that seems to run through the whole team and they have a bad day," he said.
For New Zealand to go deep into the tournament, they must bat well at the top of the order. Opener Rob Nicol seems a waste of a wicket and the Black Caps would surely be better off having Brendon McCullum starting the innings with Martin Guptill.
James Franklin is another key. He can hit big, but needs balls to set himself and might be a better bet at No 3 or 4 than Kane Williamson.
"The first six [overs] and the last five are the crucial periods of the game," Siddons said.
Batting-wise, Siddons suggested, the Black Caps would need to be 60 for one or two after those first six overs.
"You can't be two or three wickets for 40 and expect to have a great score at the end."
Conversely, the key with the ball was early wickets.
The assumption is that good spin bowling is critical in Sri Lanka, but Siddons said some wickets would definitely "seam" especially in day/night matches. New Zealand's two pool games at the Pallekele International Stadium, near Kandy, are both daytime fixtures, which plays into Bangladesh and Pakistan's hands a touch.
Three previous Twenty20 internationals have been played at the ground and all were won by the team batting first. The Black Caps also won there batting first, in last year's 50-over world cup, when 131 not out from Ross Taylor helped them beat Pakistan by 110 runs.
The Black Caps meet Australia in a warm-up game in Colombo today. Both Kyle Mills and Brendon McCullum have been cleared of serious injury, following their ugly on-field collision in Chennai this week, but neither is expected to play today.