Adam Milne stands tall in Lockie Ferguson's absence
Often unlucky to miss out in the past, the fast bowler has made the most of his opportunities in UAE
Adam Milne runs in hard. Hits the deck harder. Hits wicketkeeper Devon Conway's gloves even harder. Mohammad Shahzad loads up for an almighty flat-bat swat with his right leg in the air. But the pace - it looks a whole lot quicker than the 136kph on the speed gun - and bounce of Milne does Shahzad. The top edge keeps swirling away from Conway, the hit-the-deck bustle of Milne challenges his gloves even further, but he leaps to his right and somehow snags the catch after a bobble.
Milne keeps running in hard. Keeps hitting the deck harder. Keeps threatening the gears and upper bodies of the batters. All of this on a scorching afternoon in Abu Dhabi in a must-win for New Zealand. It's a bit like the right-arm equivalent of Neil Wagner in T20 cricket. Seventeen of Milne's 24 balls on Sunday were short or short of a good length, according to ESPNcricinfo's logs, and he gave up nine runs off them.
Milne, however, wasn't lined up to be New Zealand's 'shock' bowler at the T20 World Cup in the first place, despite hitting similar unhittable lengths in the inaugural Hundred. It was Lockie Ferguson who was supposed to rough up the opposition and intimidate them. However, a calf injury sidelined Ferguson from the entire tournament less than an hour before New Zealand's opener against Pakistan.
Head coach Gary Stead's Plan B was to unleash Milne from the reserves, but his inclusion into New Zealand's main squad wasn't rubber-stamped by the ICC before the match against Pakistan. It didn't go down too well with Stead; Milne, too, felt that he could've replicated the kind of impact Pakistan tearaway Haris Rauf had made in that game.
Although Milne had bounced back after shaky starts against India and Scotland, he hadn't quite fired like he can until Sunday. After two powerplay overs of serious heat that matched Abu Dhabi's afternoon temperatures, Milne returned in the 11th over.
Najibullah Zadran had just laid into New Zealand's slower bowlers - Mitchell Santner, Ish Sodhi and Jimmy Neesham - but when he set himself up to go after New Zealand's fastest bowler, Milne cut his pace down to 123kph and floated a cutter away from Najibullah's swinging arc. In the 15th over of Afghanistan's innings, his last, Milne, once again, took pace off and took the ball away from Najibullah and Mohammad Nabi.
When Milne burst onto the scene as an 18-year-old, he was just about raw pace. Comparisons with his mentor Shane Bond were inevitable when he produced a 153kph thunderbolt against West Indies in Auckland in 2014. Injuries then ravaged his career - he has had to deal with multiple elbow, hamstring and heel complaints along the way.
It was the heel injury that put him out of the semi-final - and final - of the ODI World Cup in 2015. In the 2017 Champions Trophy, Milne watched Mosaddek Hossain score the winning runs off him as Bangladesh KO'd New Zealand in Cardiff.
Four years later, in the Emirates, a fitter and stronger Milne, armed with greater T20 experience and expertise, set New Zealand's path to the World Cup semi-finals with figures of 1 for 17 in his four overs.
"Obviously to come from the reserves and be part of the World Cup now is pretty special," Milne said at the post-match press conference. "Yeah, to qualify for the semi-final is a great moment and hopefully in the semi-final we can put in a performance and make it into the final."
When New Zealand lost Ferguson to injury, it appeared a massive blow, but Milne has slotted in quite seamlessly into the role of being the chief enforcer.
"I think so," Milne said. "All they want me to do is to sort of come in and keep bowling fast and use my change-ups. Be aggressive and use the short ball - so yeah."
Emerging - and re-emerging - from outta nowhere has been a fairly recurrent theme in Milne's career. He made his first-class debut for Central Districts in 2009-10 largely because Michael Mason was called up to the national squad after an injury to Jacob Oram.
More recently at the Blast, he was signed as a late replacement for Mohammad Amir. He pressed on to claim a hat-trick in that tournament. At the Hundred, he was roped in by the Birmingham Phoenix as a late replacement for Shaheen Shah Afridi. He was the only bowler to concede less than a run-a-ball in that competition.
After spending much time on the sidelines and the fringes, Milne is finally ready for the limelight.
Deivarayan Muthu is a sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo