If the World T20 is a debating competition, then New Zealand have been the most reserved of all the participants. The West Indies have mostly made their point in sing-song fashion, hitting glorious falsettos but not without the odd slip up. India and Australia have combined forceful arguments with the bluster that their proven credentials afford. And while Sri Lanka and South Africa have remained tongue tied, England have gritted their way past strong rebuttals.
But, all this time, an observant New Zealand have stood up, politely articulated their thoughts and sat down. Their exhaustive preparation and inherent gravitas have ensured that every question hurled at them, however uncomfortable, has been met with a well-thought out response.
If other teams could steal New Zealand's skills, they would dive head first to grab their near-psychic pitch-reading powers. While they are at it they should also look for the magic potion that grants Kane Williamson invincibility at the toss. New Zealand began their campaign by winning the toss as well as sizing up the conditions in Nagpur. The second feat was obviously harder, more so because the hosts themselves didn't seem up to the task.
What followed was a piece of tactical selection that, with the passage of time, will be spoken of in the same reverential tones reserved for Martin Crowe's batting and bowling opening gambits with Mark Greatbatch and Dipak Patel. That Williamson dared to leave out both Tim Southee and Trent Boult, and play three spinners instead, surprised many, elicited criticism from some but none could help but admire the final outcome. Three games on little has changed for New Zealand - they are yet to lose a game, Southee and Boult are yet to play and Williamson is yet to lose a toss.
In their first game at the Eden Gardens since 1987, New Zealand reverted to playing three spinners against Bangladesh. They batted first again and registered their biggest win so far in the tournament. Once again they didn't allow either the conditions or the opponents to get the better of them. Were these guys spending hours poring over satellite images of Indian pitches inside a situation room in Wellington? Nay, according to Ross Taylor, who reckoned it was more spontaneity than research that has helped them decipher the mysterious ways of pitches.
"It's probably more instinct than anything. We have judged conditions very well and obviously winning the toss in all four games too has probably played its part," Taylor said after win over Bangladesh. "But we wanted to just pick the team [based] on the condition. Both times that we played the extra spinner, obviously it has been very dry. Today I don't think it turned as much like [in] Nagpur or Dharamsala. But today was low and slow and I thought we adjusted ourselves pretty well."
New Zealand didn't get off to a particularly earth-shattering start and at no point did they look like racking up a big total. In fact, there were only three contributions of substance - Williamson's 42 off 32 balls, Colin Munro's 35 off 33 and Taylor's 28 off 24 - and each of those was more valuable than what its numerical value would indicate on a sluggish pitch with variable bounce.
Williamson was particularly proactive, pressing his drives and sweeps into service at the start, while Munro, after a watchful start, barely missed out on boundary-hitting opportunities, sensibly choosing to keep his aerial strokes straight. Taylor, too, began with nurdles and dabs and eventually progressed to slog sweeps, as New Zealand managed 46 in their last five overs.
They also made clever bowling moves, giving play to Grant Elliott on a pitch ideal for his nifty cutters. When Taylor held forth on New Zealand's blank-slate approach it's easy to understand why they absorbed things quickly.
"To be fair, we haven't gone there with too many preconceived ideas. [There] wasn't a blade of grass. We knew it was going to be pretty darn slow," he said. "We wanted to assess the condition and try to see what the par total was up front. And the way Kane batted up front was outstanding, and during the partnership, Munro and myself knew it was going to be tough for batsmen coming in.
"We felt 140 was probably above par on that wicket. But we still got to bowl well and field well. I think as the tournament has gone on we are winning those crucial moments and putting pressure on the opposition."
Despite New Zealand not having tested their chasing skills in the tournament thus far Taylor felt they didn't feel the need to tinker with their methods just to attempt something different.
"It's such a short tournament, you don't want to be fooling around just because you haven't done certain disciplines," he said. "We are all professionals. You just got to play what's in front of you. We might be batting second next game, we might be batting first again. We just got to trust in our instincts and give it our best. Obviously, sometimes batting second is a lot easier. You've seen what the wicket is like and having a target you know how to pace an innings than when setting one."
Given the ease with which New Zealand have gone about making tough selection calls it is tempting to call it, as Frank Underwood would say in House of Cards, "ruthless pragmatism". But unlike in Underwood's case there appears to be barely any tension or personality clashes in the group. Taylor said Boult and Southee were understanding of the team's constraints in playing them on surfaces that didn't suit them.
"It's never easy when you have world-class players like Trent and Timmy not playing but with picking the team for every conditions what they are, obviously on slow wickets it's going to be tough for them.
"But there's still a couple of games to go. There are injuries and illness and things like that. They've got to be ready to perform straight away if needed. But they are very involved with the team and who is to say, the next wicket might help swing and both could play. We'll go according to conditions and want the whole 15 to be ready to play and play the role that's needed."
Taylor also said in a lighter vein that New Zealand's propensity to reach the knockouts was "more of a coincidence," but in what was probably a Freudian slip he added that his team was looking forward to the final. He quickly corrected it to semi-final which evoked laughter in the room. He, too, chuckled and told the journalists, "Don't manipulate that [statement] too much."