New Zealand look to shake off World T20 hoodoo in new era
At the 50-over World Cup, New Zealand are often a bridesmaid, never the bride. Seven times they have reached the semi-finals, though not until last year did they win one and gain maid-of-honour status. But at the World T20, not since the first tournament back in 2007 have they so much as passed the group stage. Forget being a bridesmaid, New Zealand go home before the speeches even begin. It is a surprising record for a team like New Zealand, a side that generally boasts a few big hitters, some canny bowlers, and is viewed as a perpetual danger at world events. At least they enter the 2016 World T20 with some sort of form behind them, having won their past two series, against Pakistan and Sri Lanka, albeit in home conditions.
This is also the start of a new era for New Zealand after the retirement of Brendon McCullum last month. He farewelled international cricket in front of a sparse crowd on the fifth day of a Test against Australia in Christchurch. The post-McCullum age begins on Tuesday, half a world away in Nagpur, where Kane Williamson will lead his country in a T20 against India. Not that New Zealand should be unprepared for change. In fact, McCullum had not played a T20 international since June last year, Williamson having led the side to six wins from their past eight matches.
They have batsmen capable of quick scoring - Martin Guptill, Henry Nicholls, Colin Munro, Ross Taylor, Luke Ronchi and Williamson himself. They have all-round talent - Corey Anderson, Grant Elliott, Nathan McCullum, Mitchell Santner. They have quality specialist bowlers - Trent Boult, Tim Southee, Adam Milne, Mitchell McClenaghan, Ish Sodhi. But the challenge is to transfer their recent form to spinning conditions against quality teams - India, Pakistan and Australia - in the group stage. New Zealand are No.4 on the ICC's T20 rankings, and will feel they have something to prove.
At the helm
No one could accuse McCullum of going with the flow as captain. He instilled in his team a distinct ethos and was always trying new tactics on the field. He is a hard act to follow. Williamson might be the best batsman New Zealand will ever produce, but how will he lead? Will we see a less adventurous New Zealand? Will the spirit of the side carry on as if nothing has changed? Williamson has stood in as captain on many occasions, but this is the beginning of his own era. And he is only 25, so it could be a long one.
That's the number of wins New Zealand have managed in World T20 matches, from 25 games. Among ICC Full Members, only Zimbabwe and Bangladesh have had fewer victories than New Zealand at the past five tournaments. Incidentally, New Zealand have a remarkable habit of tying T20 matches. There have been nine ties in the history of T20 international cricket, and New Zealand have played in five of them.
Only McCullum and Tillakaratne Dilshan have scored more T20 international runs than the 1666 Guptill has made. Notably, though, his best work has been done in bilateral series rather than at the World T20, where he has managed only 269 runs at 19.21 and has yet to score a half-century. He has the potential to dominate a tournament like this and at 29 years of age, the time is now to do so. In the absence of McCullum, New Zealand need Guptill to step up.
At the World Cup last year, Elliott showed that he can rise to the occasion. When he launched Dale Steyn for a six from the penultimate ball of New Zealand's semi-final chase against South Africa in Auckland, he lifted a giant weight off the collective shoulders of New Zealand cricket. Before that moment they had appeared in six World Cup semi-finals for six losses. How New Zealand would love Elliott to bring his big-moment mentality to the 20-over version as well.
Trent Boult and Tim Southee might be the big names in New Zealand's attack but in conditions that are unlikely to offer much swing or seam, Milne's pace through the air could be key to New Zealand's hopes of restricting their opponents. A fast bowler who can crack the 150kph mark, Milne also has recent form on his side, as New Zealand's leading T20 international wicket-taker over the last 12 months.
How will New Zealand go without Brendon McCullum?
It is one thing to lose McCullum the captain, quite another to lose McCullum the batsman. McCullum is the all-time leading run scorer in T20 internationals, the only man with 2000 runs in the format, the only man with two centuries. He chose to depart from international cricket in what he called "the purest form of the game", but New Zealand could really have used him in this tournament. Williamson's class will be important to New Zealand's hopes, but there can be no passengers among the rest of the batting order. There will be plenty of pressure on Guptill, Williamson, Taylor and their more junior colleagues to cover for the loss of one of the shortest format's finest exponents.
World T20 history
If New Zealand often perform above themselves at the 50-over World Cup, you would have to say they have underachieved at the World T20. Only once have they progressed past the group stage, and that was at the very first tournament back in 2007, when they lost a semi-final to Pakistan.
In their Own Words
"It's important that we adapt. We've been playing some good T20 cricket but at the same time you want to play smart, and over here cricket can be quite different to our conditions."
New Zealand captain Kane Williamson hopes his side can maintain their good T20 form in different conditions.
Brydon Coverdale is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. @brydoncoverdale