Sports

Get ready to weep: The Blackcaps face their T20 heartbreakers

The Black Caps have rolled India and squeezed Australia, but now it’s time to take on Pakistan – a team that almost always find a way to break our hearts.

Few things make Kiwi cricket fans tremble more than squaring off with Pakistan in the midst of a world tournament. Just mention 1992 (the Inzamam game) or 1999 (the other semi) and watch us squirm. Make no bones about it; from the Young Guns to the Black Caps, Pakistan are New Zealand’s bogey side.

Should Kane Williamson and his men beat Pakistan tomorrow morning, they will enter just their second World Twenty20 semi-final. There is a history of the Black Caps and ODI semi-finals, but it is yet to translate to the hustle and bustle of Twenty20 cricket. Their last WT20 semi-final was a loss to (yes, you guessed it) Pakistan in the inaugural tournament in 2007.

New Zealand set Pakistan a modest 144 in Cape Town as Umar Gul took 3-15 to rip through the middle order. The total never looked enough. Pakistan booked their place in the final and would later go within a boundary of beating India and lifting the cup. It wasn’t their time.

It was a mere entrée; two years later at the Oval in London, Gul returned to torment New Zealand. This time he took an astonishing 5-6 – a then world-record – to again humble New Zealand’s middle order. While New Zealand all but accused their opponents of ball-tampering, Pakistan went on to win it all.

To be fair, the New Zealand camp may have had a point. Should there have been such violent reverse swing 12 overs into an innings? You be the judge.

While Twenty20 can be a lottery, the weight of history has held up during this tournament. New Zealand had never lost to India in this format and prevailed convincingly when the sides met last Saturday, while India maintained their record of having never lost to Pakistan in a major event. In four previous WT20 meetings, New Zealand have only ever beaten Pakistan once – a one-run win in Barbados in 2010. A second win won’t come easy.

New Zealand may be pleased Umar Gul, the Kiwi Hunter, has been left out of the Pakistan squad this time around, but there are other threats. Pakistan have to win and that makes them dangerous. They know adversity. They know pressure. A political standoff threatened their very involvement the event. You couldn’t blame them for being distracted by it all. They eventually arrived and were impressive in their first up win against Bangladesh, but then failed to fire in an 18-over affair with their neighbours. It sums up why Pakistan can be such a cumbersome opponent; you never know what Pakistan team is going to turn up and sometimes you get the impression that not even they know. Will they bind together to be pesky heartbreakers? Or will they play like they are meeting each other for the first time?

Nagpur and Dharamsala, the venues for the Black Caps opening matches, were spin-friendly. Mohali will provide a different challenge. The pitch has been under the covers and may offer up some New Zealand-like conditions. Even after the Black Caps beat India in a David versus Goliath spin-off, Pakistan chose to challenge India with a four-man pace attack. Expect more of the same if there is some any grass on the wicket. Fast bowling is Pakistan’s undoubted strength and New Zealand are known to succumb to it.

In previous editions of the WT20, the Black Caps have picked their ‘best XI’. After poor showings in Sri Lanka (2012) and Bangladesh (2014), they have finally embraced a horses for courses approach. They have handed Tim Southee and Trent Boult the bibs and decided to pick their ‘best XI for sub-continental cricket’. What a change it has made. What selection surprise is in store for Mohali?

Both sides are equally capable of brilliance and calamity. It is what makes New Zealand–Pakistan encounters so enticingly watchable.

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