New Zealand head into ICC World Cup 2019 in the United Kingdom looking for a repeat of what they achieved in the previous edition. Despite being beaten finallists, the Kiwis undoubtedly breathed life into the competition. Brendon McCullum’s men were hailed for manner in which they played the game. Can they go one better, though?

Never considered favourites, the Black Caps were the team to beat in the last edition Down Under. Fast forward four years, they don’t have McCullum, Corey Anderson, Daniel Vettori or even Grant Elliot in the squad but the core of the 2015 team is much intact.

Though the optimism and hope from the last edition may have subsided – they still remain a formidable unit under new captain Kane Williamson and coach Gary Stead. “If we play close to our potential, then hopefully we can do New Zealand proud,” says Stead.

History at World Cup

Former New Zealand captain Brendon McCullum walks past the 2015 World Cup trophy after losing the final.| Jason Reed/ Reuters
Former New Zealand captain Brendon McCullum walks past the 2015 World Cup trophy after losing the final.| Jason Reed/ Reuters

New Zealand have always been billed as dark horses. They are unfazed by expectations and it reflects it their consistent run of results throughout the tournament’s history. They have romped into the semi-finals on seven occasions.

The qualification format of the showpiece event has evolved over the course of its history. Despite the stark changes, all teams had to play a preliminary match which was followed by a playoff game. And barring the 1983 and 1987 editions, New Zealand has made it past the preliminaries on every occasion, something that no side has managed to do.

Five-time winners Australia and England have made it through on eight instances followed by India, Pakistan and West Indies (all seven).

Since 2015 World Cup

Currently ranked no 4 in the World Cup, New Zealand have failed to build on the momentum from the last edition despite boasting of multiple star players in their ranks.

In the last four years, they played a total of 28 One-day Internationals against bottom-ranked sides Sri Lanka, Pakistan, Bangladesh, West Indies and Afghanistan and their record was exceptional – just 4 losses with a success rate of 85.7 percent.

However, results have not been the same against the top sides such as India, South Africa, England and Australia. Out of 40 matches played against these sides, they emerged triumphant only on 15 occasions.

You could attribute it to the fact why New Zealand tend to falter in the business end of the showpiece event. Although they crashed out of the 2017 Champions Trophy in disastrous fashion – without managing to win a single game – Williamson and Co will draw confidence from the recent whitewashes against West Indies, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh.

The latter two series wins were sandwiched with a comprehensive 4-1 loss to India at home, raising doubts over their ability to match big teams. But they rightly proved it was just a rare blip by clinching the T20 series that followed.

And if the thumping win against the Men in Blue in their warm-up game was anything to go by, they possess the innate potential to dismantle any side when in full flow.

Top five batsmen since 2015 World Cup

Player Matches [Innings] Runs [50s / 100s] Average / Strike-rate
Ross Taylor 60 [57] 2932 [17 / 8]  68.18 / 86.41
Kane Williamson 66 [65] 2880 [21 / 5] 46.46 / 82.42
Martin Guptill 62 [62] 2716 [12 / 9]  49.38 / 94.10
Tom Latham 59 [54] 1893 [13 / 4]  37.86 / 86.51
Henry Nicholls 41 [39]  1029 [8 / 1] 35.48 / 85.04

Top five bowlers since 2015 World Cup

Player Matches [Innings] Wickets [5-fors / 4-fors] Average / Strike-rate
Trent Boult  55 [55] 108 [4 / 3]  24.74 / 28.1
Mitchell Santner 59 [55]  63 [1/ 0]  34.71 / 42.4
Matt Henry 34 [33] 57 [1 / 4]  29.49 / 31.2
Tim Southee  46 [46]  54 [1/ 0] 42.66 / 44.3
Lockie Ferguson  27 [27] 46 [1/1] 28.47 / 30.4

Keys to qualifying for the semi-finals

Facing the likes of Sri Lanka, Bangladesh and Afghanistan in the first 10 days of tournament presents a good opportunity for the Kiwis to book their semi-final ticket in advance.

In Williamson, they not only have one of the finest batsmen in the world but also a tactically astute and an attack-minded captain.

The onus is on big-hitting openers Martin Guptill and Colin Munro to provide them starts. Veteran Ross Taylor has been consistent in recent years. In fast outfields and shorter boundaries, a lot will depend on how the lower middle-order performs. All-rounders Jimmy Neesham and Colin de Grandhomme are clean hitters of the ball but only time will tell if they can come good at the death – something that will have a telling say in a team’s fortunes during the tournament.

Coming to their bowling, New Zealand pacers have racked up a total number of 405 wickets since the last World Cup, only second to Australia. Spearheading the attack is Trent Boult, the joint-highest wicket taker alongside Mitchell Starc in the 2015 edition.

Pacers Tim Southee and Matt Henry are capable of swinging the ball in both directions while Lockie Ferguson provides the surprise element with his pace. Southee’s form, though, is a worry.

Left-armer Mitchell Santner is the preferred first-choice spinner and Ish Sodhi could join him. Wicketkeeper Tom Latham is nursing an injury and if he fails to recover, New Zealand will have to go with the uncapped Tom Blundell. Anything less than a top-four berth will prove to be a disappointment.

X-Factor at CWC 2019

Marty MELVILLE / AFP
Marty MELVILLE / AFP

There’s no doubt that at 35, this could be his final World Cup appearance. But it’s simply hard to overlook Ross Taylor’s blistering form with the bat in the last few years.

The former New Zealand skipper remains the backbone of the middle-order and depending on the situation, Taylor knows how to pace his innings.

As important as Williamson is, Taylor has been in the form of his life, currently placed only behind Rohit Sharma and Virat Kohli in the ICC ODI rankings.

He has scored the most World Cup runs and the most ODI tons (20) for New Zealand. Since the start of the year, Taylor has plundered 593 runs in 11 innings with an outstanding average of 74.12 – being dismissed just once in single digit figures.

With few batsmen of his ilk present in the modern game, there will be no better way to cap off a remarkable career than to lift a World Cup title.

Squad

Kane Williamson (c), Tom Blundell (wk), Trent Boult, Colin de Grandhomme, Lockie Ferguson, Martin Guptill, Matt Henry, Tom Latham (wk), Colin Munro, Jimmy Neesham, Henry Nicholls (wk), Mitchell Santner, Ish Sodhi, Tim Southee, Ross Taylor.

Fixtures

Opponent  Venue  Date  Time
Sri Lanka Cardiff Saturday, June 1 3:00 pm
Bangladesh  London  Wednesday, June 5 6:00 pm
Afghanistan Taunton Saturday, June 8 6:00 pm
India Nottingham  Thursday, June 13  3:00 pm
South Africa Birmingham Wednesday, June 19  3:00 pm
West Indies Manchester Saturday, June 22 6:00 pm
Pakistan Birmingham Wednesday, June 26  3:00 pm
Australia  London  Saturday, June 29  6:00 pm
England Chester-le-Street Wednesday, July 3 3:00 pm