World T20 March 21, 2014

NZ must shrug off Banglaphobia

Manful, over-achieving, dark-horse semi-finalists, ultimately destined to be brushed aside by the heavyweights: the cliché about New Zealand's big-tournament prospects is this year as glib as it is patronising. Several factors are at play, but for the sake of ironic simplicity, two major opposing forces may be considered.

Most encouragingly, New Zealand are fresh from a summer of plunder, in which they walloped West Indies and sucker-punched India. For the first time in some years, New Zealand cricket fans can stand in the public house of cricketing discourse, tears welling in their eyes, and utter with profound pride the words: "our team isn't utter horse crap". The thought that most of the summer's protagonists can play top-level cricket for the next six years - many even twice that number - might be enough to reduce the more invested supporters into triumphant, blubbering heaps on the floor.

If New Zealand can defeat higher-ranked oppositions in Tests, how much more then can they hope for in T20s? Their captain's pre-eminent innings of the summer, at Eden Park, had been ruled by heroic self-denial, but in Bangladesh, he has the freedom to return to maximum McCullumness: charging fast bowlers the moment he comes to the crease, roly-polying towards point as sends the ball over the wicketkeeper, and generally treating each delivery like it had just mistaken him for an Australian. Ross Taylor had also put away his favourite shot at times during the recent home series, but even he can now slog-sweep to deep midwicket with abandon. Only Kane Williamson, bless his soul, appears less than ecstatic about switching formats.

The middle-order allrounders are primed and puffed up, thanks in part to an IPL auction which delivered that most heart-warming affirmation of cricketing prowess: crores and crores of rupees. In Corey Anderson and James Neesham New Zealand have high-impact batsmen also capable of making headway with the ball, Luke Ronchi appears to be settling into international cricket following a lean patch last year, and Nathan McCullum's recent batting form in the subcontinent has been heartening. Tim Southee has been an underrated death bowler for some time, and he will likely be partnered either by Kyle Mills' experience or Mitchell McClenaghan's hit-the-deck energy - both capable combinations.

What threatens to sink New Zealand in the tournament is their recent, crippling Banglaphobia. Two of the crushing nadirs that made the team's phenomenal resurgence possible came in the country where they were twice Banglawashed in ODIs - in 2010 and in November last year. On both occasions, the batsmen proved meek on surfaces that were not suitable to their style of big hitting, and were particularly susceptible to the slow-choke, which several subcontinent sides specialise in. New Zealand's seamers also failed to adapt to pitches that offered little bounce, trying to rush opponents into shots, but managing only to provide hittable lengths.

New Zealand will be pleased to be in a group with England and South Africa, who are not traditionally adept at suffocating opponents on slow, low tracks, but if they are to do their talents justice, they must decipher the conditions.

Key players
Beyond his batting, Brendon McCullum has forged a reputation as a fearless captain, who embraces unusual strategy and experimentation. Having lost 10 of their last 12 matches in the country, his tactics may be crucial to New Zealand turning their Bangladesh record around. He has also recently appeared skilled in coaxing the best from his younger players, and given the respect for him will have risen immeasurably in the dressing room during the India tour, that facet of his leadership may also have been enhanced.

Surprise package
Having been a fixture in Northern Districts' top order for several years, Anton Devcich made a promising start to his international Twenty20 career, hitting 59 against Bangladesh and 30 against Sri Lanka. But what makes Devcich a particularly exciting prospect is his second skill. He delivers varied, accurate left-arm spin which had proved particularly effective during the HRV cup in January.

While the relative youth of the New Zealand squad bodes well for the future, it also means that several players in the likely first XI are inexperienced at the top level, especially in high-pressure global tournaments. The likes of McClenaghan, Colin Munro, Devcich, Neesham and Anderson find themselves in unfamiliar conditions as well, and New Zealand's fate may be determined by the strength of their performance at key moments.

World T20 history
New Zealand made the semi-finals of the inaugural tournament in 2007, before losing to Pakistan, but have been knocked out at the Super Eights stage in each tournament since. In 2012, they tied with both Sri Lanka and West Indies, but lost both matches in the Super Over.

Recent form
New Zealand have only lost one match in their last 16, all of which have been at home. They won both Twenty20s in the most recent series, against West Indies, and had even won a Twenty20 in Bangladesh last year - their only victory of the tour.

Andrew Fidel Fernando is ESPNcricinfo's Sri Lanka correspondent. He tweets here