Bengaluru, June 27: New Zealand were having a dream run in the ICC Cricket World Cup 2019 till Wednesday (June 26) when they took on Pakistan in a crucial league game at Edgbaston, Birmingham.
The Black Caps were without a loss in their first six games and with 11 points (the game versus India was washed out), they were sitting second in the table and requiring just one win to join their Trans-Tasman rivals Australia in the semifinals. But they failed to ensure that one win as Pakistan outclassed them, winning the game by six wickets to stay alive in the competition.
New Zealand are still sitting at the second spot with 11 points from seven matches and could be toppled by India if they can beat the West Indies comprehensively at Old Trafford on Thursday.
The Black Caps have two games left - against Australia at Lord's on June 29 and England at Chester-le-Street on July 3.
At least one win from those two games will see the Black Caps making their eighth WC semi-final; a record which is only matched by Australia.
New Zealand have done well in this World Cup, but they have some issues to address at the same time. The Black Caps had a relatively easier fixture in the World Cup as they played their first three games against Sri Lanka, Bangladesh and Afghanistan.
With due respects to all the three Asian sides, they were still not among the best in the business and the Kiwis hadn't had too much of a pain to overcome the resistance in those games (even though they won it narrowly against Bangladesh). New Zealand's first game against a major opponent was washed out as they had to share a point with India.
The advancement of Kane Williamson's side has been less fluent from that point onwards. It was the captain's back-to-back centuries that saw New Zealand narrowly beating South Africa and the West Indies in their next two games. But the Black Caps couldn't rely on their skipper to score a hundred every time they go out to bat. Williamson fell for 41 in the match against Pakistan and even though the lower order kept in fighting, the total achieved was never intimidating at the end.
One of New Zealand's big problems in this WC has been the poor forms of openers. Martin Guptill showed some signs of form earlier this year after returning from an injury but he has not delivered at the World Cup except one fifty in the opening game. He had hit a double century against the West Indies in the 2015 edition but fell for a first-ball duck against the same opponents this time. As New Zealand approach the business end of the tournament, these batsmen need to fire. It is clearly difficult for the team to find replacements if so many batsmen, including the openers, are not in form at the same time. New Zealand can try Henry Nicholls in the opening slot as an alternative and the 27-year-old's experience in facing top bowlers like Mitchell Starc, Pat Cummins, Jofra Archer and Mark Wood could be handy in the final two league games.
In the bowling department, the Kiwis have done much better as a team. The likes of Lockie Ferguson (15 wickets) and Trent Boult (9 wickets) have done well but Matt Henry suddenly found himself going dry and the pressure fell more on people like James Neesham and Colin de Grandhomme who are more of supporting bowlers. Spinner Mitchell Santner's form has also been a worrying factor for Williamson. Against Pakistan, New Zealand used as many as eight bowlers but couldn't yet pick more than four wickets. It is not a good sign either.