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Not a must-win, but New Zealand must win their momentum back

New Zealand should get into the final four even with a loss to England, but that would make them the only team without a win against the other semi-finalists

Only one team must win the match tomorrow, and that's not New Zealand. But losing to England would mean that the World Cup's perennial bridesmaids go to the semi-finals - and they will, barring a freakish turn of results - as the only team without a win against any of their co-passengers. The draw and the weather - rain washed out their match against India - ensured a smoother early ride for them but, having nearly booked their final-four berth, they have hit the kind of bumps which can be, even at the best of times, confidence jarring.
The phrase 'being in charge of your own fate' has been used often in the back end of this tournament, which opened with one unanticipated result. And New Zealand can, by beating England, finish in the top three and take fate out of the equation. In their minds, then, they need this win as much as England do.
Momentum - it's a word Ross Taylor used several times on the eve of the match - is what New Zealand need to regain ahead of the semi-final, having lost a fair bit of it the last two weeks through back-to-back losses against Pakistan and Australia. Both losses exposed frailties that had been apparent though the early weeks but were papered over by their big strengths: the bowling, and Kane Williamson. And Taylor, to an extent.
Only Williamson features among the top ten run-scorers in the tournament, but even he has slipped down the order with two successive failures. And Taylor, who started promisingly, now stands at No. 24. No New Zealand batsman apart from Williamson has scored a hundred, and Williamson and Taylor have been involved in a rescue act almost every time, with the openers having gone in the first ten overs.
Martin Guptill, expected at least to be the third best batsman in the team, has scored fewer runs in the whole tournament than he scored in one innings in the last World Cup, and half of those runs came in one match; and the gamble on Colin Munro didn't ever take off, requiring them to bring in Henry Nicholls. Consequently, the combined batting average of their openers is better than only Afghanistan and, at 24.25, a fair distance from the leading teams, Australia (68), India (67.76) and England (51.80).
Taylor acknowledged Guptill's challenge. "He was the leading run-scorer in the last World Cup and he had gone into that last World Cup not scoring any runs. His confidence is down. Sometimes you need a bit of luck and he certainly needs that. It is a very important position at the top of the order and getting Guppy firing is a key part to our team… if he can do that tomorrow, it certainly sets the tone for our batting unit and our power down the order with (Jimmy) Neesham and (Colin) de Grandhomme and, hopefully, not having them to do as much work as they have probably had to do in that last couple of matches."
With four starts and only two half-centuries, Taylor himself knows that he needs a bit of luck too. "I have felt good throughout the whole tournament," he said, "A couple of strangles down the leg-side and a couple of good balls, that is the nature of the beast."
But he would have happy memories of his last encounter with England, when he helped New Zealand to 339 with 181 off 147 balls, an innings made even more extraordinary for the fact that half of it was played on one leg after he injured himself diving to make a second run. "That was a long time ago," Taylor said when reminded of that innings.
Questions were also asked about New Zealand's brand of cricket and Williamson's captaincy. Brendon McCullum, who led New Zealand's last World Cup campaign with the spirit of a matador, has himself raised those questions in his current role as a television pundit.
"Obviously, Brendon was the extreme, and Kane has his own unique style as well," Taylor said. "At the end of the day, you have to be true to yourself and be authentic and, more often than not, you get the right result.
"I think Kane is a fantastic world-class batsman and a world-class captain. You don't have to look far, till the last of couple of games there were some pundits out there saying he was a great captain. We lose a couple of games and he is a bad captain. He is still a great captain, leads from the front and the team respects him and I love playing under him. I'd love as a team to take a little bit of pressure off him and score some runs and not let him do everything."
This isn't a virtual quarter-final for New Zealand as it is for England. But there is a lot more at stake than might appear. This is their final opportunity to find their 'A' game in a tournament that has brought them more wins than any other team bar Australia and India, but not the ones that really count. And, once through, they will match Australia with eight semi-final appearances.
To go beyond that - and they know this - they will have to play better than they have done so far.
"Hopefully we are not too far away to playing the brand of cricket we know we can play," Taylor said, "because we definitely haven't played to our potential so far and hopefully that is not too far away."
He meant tomorrow.

Sambit Bal is editor-in-chief of ESPNcricinfo @sambitbal