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Why New Zealand can't cross India hurdle with wobbly feet

Trent Boult cleaned up India's top order to skittle the India out for just 179

With successive losses against Pakistan, Australia and England, New Zealand are in really bad shape going into the first semi-final against India, so much so that almost nobody is placing their bets on them.

The Black Caps star opener Colin Munro alluded to this before the high-octane match. "Everyone can keep talking about the Aussies and the Indians, we don't really care about that to be honest. Our job is to focus on what we can do and we know that if we can play to our potential, we can beat anybody. The guys can keep talking about them, but we will sneak in as the third or fourth favourite and see what happens thereafter."

It will surprise many if Munro's words come true. If you rewind a bit and try to join the dots, you will come to understand that New Zealand have been papering over the cracks that have always been there and those have come back to haunt them at the worst possible time.

Not the ideal preparation for the World Cup

When other teams were preparing for the ODI World Cup and concentrating on the limited-overs format to give themselves the best possible shot at the upcoming event, quite inexplicably, New Zealand played a three-match Test series against Pakistan in December 2018, following it up with another three-match Test series against Bangladesh in March 2019.

Further, they steamrolled a hapless Sri Lanka at home, followed by a win against Pakistan, who did not put their best team on the field. The Black Caps were given a wake-up call as they were completely outplayed against India by 4-1. But, they massaged their ego with another series win over Bangladesh coming into the World Cup.

Skewed scheduling

The Kiwis then played their first warm-up match against India and got the better share of the conditions as Trent Boult cleaned up India's top order to skittle the team out for just 179. As a result, New Zealand won the match easily by six wickets, with more than 12 overs to spare and looked all set to make a mark at the World Cup.

They were given another wake-up call by West Indies in their second warm-up match as the Men in Maroon piled up 421 runs, winning the game by 91 runs.

There was always a danger of falling into a false sense of complacency as New Zealand's initial World Cup fixtures were against relatively weaker opponents. They started their campaign with a 10-wicket win over Sri Lanka and then beat Bangladesh and Afghanistan.

What could have been their toughest match of the tournament against India, was abandoned due to rain. Nevertheless, New Zealand followed it with wins over South Africa and West Indies. The team was sitting pretty at the top of the points table and it looked almost certain that they will qualify to the semis with flying colours.

However, as the tougher fixtures came, the team began to falter. Despite the collapse of the top order, New Zealand fought their way to a 237-run total and then made it tough for Pakistan to chase it down, despite losing the match

In their next match against Australia, the team was blown away for a meagre 157 in reply to Australia's 243. A similar result followed in their next match against England in which the team was skittled out for 186 while chasing a total of 306.

The Kiwis, who at one point looked like qualifying to the semis at number one or two, finally managed to make it by the skin of the teeth after slipping to the fourth spot. Hence, they go into the semi-finals with three successive defeats and their confidence at rock bottom.

Unsettled team combination and butchered confidence

Another modus operandi that New Zealand followed was not tinkering with the playing XI at all in their first five-six matches. Henry Nicholls was set to open the batting for them along with Martin Guptill before the World Cup. But as the batman suffered a minor injury, Colin Munro was given a chance at this place.

Apart from an unbeaten half-century in the first match, Munro could not return with substantial scores but the team persisted with him even after Nicholls got fit. Similarly, the likes of ish Sodhi and Tim Southee were not given chances in earlier matches.

It was only when the team began to lose that they started making changes, but the players having not played for a couple of months looked completely toothless. This is the reason why the team had to backtrack after giving Ish Sodhi and Tim Southee a look in for one match each. Nicholls is also struggling at the top of the order and the team now finds itself in a fix, at the most critical phase of their World Cup campaign.

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