The Black Caps are the quite simply the most underrated ODI team in World Cup cricket.
This time, they will play most of their matches in home conditions, and will be even more dangerous and giant-killing than they usually are. In my opinion, they are not the dark horses anymore—but one of the three favorites to lift the cup.
At the very least, a semifinal beckons, and they could well play their first ICC World Cup Final. Why? Because they have gone under the radar in 2014 and pulled off possibly their best year in cricket history.
Not only in tests, where McCullum changed their fortunes with rare wins, but in ODIs, where young Kane Williamson seems to have come into his own and established his status as the most consistent batsman in cricket. Their team has the perfect balance of young and experienced, of all-rounders and big-hitters, with a Captain in devastating form. With Luke Ronchi and Anderson as finishers, they have it covered big-time. Not choosing the promising Jimmy Neesham and even upcoming Matt Henry is a bold move though, both of who have performed well over the last year. The others have all performed in turns, and their bowling line-up—consisting of the quick Adam Milne, Southee, Vettori, McCullum, McClenaghan, Mills and Trent Boult—are probably the most potent line-up in the group. They know their pitches well, and will be a handful, as they are currently proving to be for Sri Lanka, after the way they outplayed Pakistan in Sharjah.
They over-perform at World Cups (the anti-Proteas), in 4-year cycles, and even in their most ordinary phase (2011), they manage to reach the semifinals. They have reached the semis on 6 occasions (75, 79, 92, 99, 07, 11), and they were even favorites in 1992 with their revolutionary opening strategies (Greatbatch as a batsman, Deepak Patel as the bowler). In 1999, Roger Twose and Fleming took them to the semis before they lost to Pakistan. In 1996, despite Chris Harris’ brave innings, they fell short to Mark Waugh-inspired Australia in the quarters. In 2007, they proved their mettle but fell short against Sri Lanka in the semis. In 2011, they upset favorites South Africa in the quarters, shocked Pakistan in the group stages, only to lose to Sri Lanka again in the semis. This time, however, they could go one better.
X-Factor: Adam Milne
Surprise Pick: Grant Elliot
Along with South Africa and Australia, New Zealand are the favorites. It will be interesting to see how they deal with this new tag, but going by McCullum’s fearless leadership and form, this young team is set to surprise naysayers one final time. In a big, big way.
New World Champions? That’ll be an upset as big as Sri Lanka’s in the 1996 World Cup. And entirely possible with their new brand of cricket.
Think about it.