The Black Caps have battled through injuries and a four-game losing streak to essentially book a spot in the semifinals of the Cricket World Cup.
Now comes the hard part.
New Zealand this morning eased past Sri Lanka by five wickets in Bengaluru, finishing the round robin with a 5-4 record and a net run rate healthy enough to all but lock down fourth on the ladder.
After tearing through the top order to dismiss their lowly opponents for 171, a rapid 86-run opening stand removed any doubt as the Black Caps needed only 23.2 overs to advance to another knockout round.
It will be the fifth straight ODI World Cup in which they have played a semifinal and, as reward, they now face one of the toughest tests in cricket.
India have romped past all eight opponents at their home tournament, appearing almost unbeatable while boasting an in-form squad and boosted by fervent support.
They will likely finish the group stage with a ninth triumph over the Netherlands, before welcoming New Zealand to Wankhede Stadium on Wednesday night.
The match will be a repeat of the epic two-day semifinal in 2019, when a five-win Black Caps eliminated the top qualifiers in Manchester. On this occasion, however, Kane Williamson’s men will have to contend with Virat Kohli and co in Mumbai.
For now, New Zealand will be satisfied to have merely earned such a stern challenge.
In the last few weeks, as one setback followed the next, uncertainty grew over whether they would clinch their customary semifinal place. Along with defeats, injuries began to pile up, and Matt Henry’s torn hamstring weakened a suddenly toothless attack.
But last night, Williamson — playing just his third match of the tournament — was able to select from a full squad and then deploy a well-balanced bowling unit firing at the right time.
With the seamers finding their length and the spinners extracting turn, Sri Lanka were reduced to 113-8 in the 24th over, before an innings-best 43-run stand for the 10th wicket caused frustration given rain was a possibility.
But after Sri Lanka had crawled to the 47th over, the Black Caps made quick work of their chase, Rachin Ravindra taking his tally to 565 runs to move atop the scoring charts and set up a comfortable victory.
Rachin Ravindra continued an outstanding tournament. Photo / Photosport
That outcome had looked likely when, after opting to bowl, the pacemen finally delivered in the powerplay. Having picked up only two wickets in the first 10 overs during their four-game slide, the Black Caps took five today as Trent Boult (3-37) posed particular threat.
Boult became the first New Zealander — and sixth man overall — to collect 50 World Cup scalps as Sri Lanka staggered to 70-5.
It could have been worse had Tom Latham pouched a simple chance from Kusal Perera in Tim Southee’s opening over, the wicketkeeper earning instant redemption by snagging Pathum Nissanka the next ball.
Perera made the most of his life, smacking nine fours and two sixes to race past 50 from 22 balls. But at the other end, Boult struck twice in three deliveries, getting the ball to nip in and seam away at will.
A successful lbw review gave the veteran a third in five overs, and once Perera (51 off 28) fell while mis-timing a drive off Lockie Ferguson, Sri Lanka were down to their last recognised pair.
Angelo Mathews’ time at the crease quickly ran out, deceived by Mitchell Santner’s turn and flight as his second nick of the 17th over flew to slip. The left-arm spinner then teased Dhananjaya de Silva into another thick edge as Daryl Mitchell grabbed a second catch in as many overs.
Combining with Ferguson to apply the type of middle-period pressure that was a mark of their winning start to the tournament, Santner (2-22) completed an exceptional spell of 10 straight overs.
But having seemingly been in a hurry to head home, Sri Lanka’s tailenders decided to dig in, with Maheesh Theekshana (38no off 91) forming the two longest partnerships of the innings.
Both were eventually broken by Ravindra and the 23-year-old summarily displayed similar timing with the bat, dispatching a couple into the stands as the Black Caps cruised to 73-0 after 10 overs.
Devon Conway (45 off 42) found gaps before finding midwicket in the 13th, with Ravindra (42 off 34) following his partner a few balls later. Mitchell (43 off 31) came out cracking boundaries to make it 103-2 after 15 and, despite Williamson being dismissed for the first time this tournament, victory — and almost certainly a semifinal berth — was soon secured.
What Pakistan must do to reach semifinals, and deny the Black Caps
Pakistan face England and if batting first, need to win by at least 287 runs. If bowling first, the task becomes nearly impossible as they’d need to dismiss England out for a low total - such as 150 and chase down it down in 3.4 overs, according to Cricinfo.
What Afghanistan must do to reach semifinals
Afghanistan need to win by at least 438 runs against South Africa to jump the Black Caps on NRR.
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