An unbeaten run into the knockouts can be tricky. South Africa had found unique ways to flounder after keeping a clean sheet in the league stages of the 1996 and 1999 World Cups. England wore the chokers’ tag at home in the first two World Cups in 1975 and 1979. And when the World Cup finally came to India, the co-hosts and defending champions won all till England reverse-swept them in the semi-finals in Mumbai.
The only other time India were unbeaten in the group stages was in 2015, along with New Zealand, but it didn’t count for either team. Exceptions have been Sri Lanka in 1996. And Australia in 2003 and 2007, why they are considered the best ODI team ever.
Rules are a little different in the World Twenty20 where group stages were often followed by a Super 8, and in this edition, the Super 10. But the trend hasn’t been that different. England, winners in 2010, are the only exception to the list of teams tripping in the final after an unbeaten run --- Pakistan in 2007, Sri Lanka in 2009 and 2012, Australia in 2010 and India in 2014. Cut to this WT20, New Zealand are now two matches away from either adding their names to that list or joining England and Australia.
Even if they don’t win the title, New Zealand have already achieved a rare feat --- beating three sub-continent teams in the sub-continent. To do that on three different pitches takes planning, skill and flexibility. Nagpur was a tale of spin that caught India in a web. At Mohali, Pakistan were undone on a pitch tailor-made for their pacers. And on this slow and low Eden Gardens pitch, the Kiwis went one-up on Bangladesh with an all-round display.
The only time New Zealand looked like losing the plot here was when they were swinging their bat across the line to almost everything pitched slightly short. Mustafizur Rahman – who ended with a memorable fifer --- sent their stumps dancing across the turf with his cutters. What held New Zealand in good stead though was the early burst of captain Kane Williamson, who hit 42 in 32 balls. They won by 75 runs.
They might have lost out in terms of scoring, but New Zealand ensured Bangladesh never got an inch when they batted. Bangladesh --- still sore after Bengaluru heartbreak --- however, never really showed up for the second half of the match. This was New Zealand’s first game at the Eden Gardens since 1987, but they never looked out of place. From sharp fielding to ringing in spinners to bowl in tandem with their medium pacers, New Zealand have ticked all the boxes four matches in a row.
With the knockouts calling, New Zealand need to prove they are still good for two more wins.