Bengaluru: New Zealand’s campaign has hit a disheartening flatline after their early dominatio and the Kiwis will have to rediscover their bowling mojo for a World Cup reboot when they face knocked-out Sri Lanka here on Thursday.
Ahead of their last league match which is under rain threat, New Zealand are hobbling on eight points, aware of the fact that a defeat or a washout can throw them out of the tournament. They are now fourth on the table. Pakistan (+0.036) and Afghanistan (-0.338), who also have eight points apiece, can also potentially reach 10 points with a win over England and South Africa in their respective final league match.
In that context, the Kiwis (+0.398) have to win sufficiently big to take care of the Net Run Rate as well.
So, it is not an all too bright scenario for New Zealand, but a victory will at least keep them in the race to the semifinals for the time being.
But it is not tough to see why New Zealand have faltered and ended up at where they are now.
Unlike backmarkers England, New Zealand’s batting has not really collapsed except against South Africa but their bowling lacked sting when it was needed.
The Kiwis made 400 against Pakistan at this venue but their bowlers continued the rudderless ways, leaking runs in plenty and left clueless against Fakhar Zaman's onslaught.
The Kiwis bowlers failed in critical thinking when the going was getting tough for them, and it was quite surprising to see even experienced bowlers like Trent Boult and Tim Southee operating without a Plan B.
Left-arm spinner Mitchell Santner has been a solace for them among the ruins, but the dangers of depending on Glenn Phillips' part-time off-spin was evident when Pakistan batters gave him a shellacking.
New Zealand bowlers have been simply unable to put pressure on opposition batters especially in the middle and end overs, and rectifying that area will be their priority going against the Lankans.
An underwhelming Sri Lanka might not have similar firepower as Pakistan but unless the New Zealand bowlers regroup quickly, the Islanders still can inflict some damage as they have efficient batters in Pathum Nissanka and Sadeera Samarawickrama.
Then there were reasons beyond Kiwis' control too for them playing tomorrow's match in an atmosphere of desperation.
Injuries have hampered the 2019 finalists in this event as they did not have the consistent services of several key players such as captain Kane Williamson, James Neesham, Matt Henry and Lockie Ferguson Williamson played just two matches in the tournament owing to a thumb niggle and on those occasions the elegant right-hander made two fifties.
His absence had a big role in the Kiwis' slump, the period when they lost four matches on the trot. They dearly missed the solidity and flexibility Williamson brings to their line-up.
Of course, Rachin Ravindra has scored big and he might still do an encore against Lanka and Phillips have been destructive often, but there were times when New Zealand badly hoped for Williamson’s prudence, particularly as a leader.
The 33-year-old will have to conjure all his experience and motivational skills to inspire his side against the Lankans, who might want to leave these shores with a final hurrah.
However, there is a missing piece in New Zealand batting as well. After a massive hundred against England in the tournament opener, Devon Conway is yet to make a fifty.
The left-handed opener has reached 30s and 40s a few times, but he has not converted them into a big score. Kiwis will hope that Conway will buck the trend against Sri Lanka.
On the other hand, Sri Lanka, barring some isolated flashes, went through a zombified campaign in the showpiece. They were hard done by injuries to several key players ahead and during the tournament.
Perhaps, no other team had to chop and change as much as the Lankans. Aside from that, they were also equally culpable of not trying to make the most out of the available personnel.
They might view the floundering Kiwis as a good option to give a pleasant conclusion to their run in the tournament.
So, both the teams have to find answers to some tough questions and contextually New Zealand's quest assumes significance.
Squads: New Zealand: Kane Williamson (c), Trent Boult, Mark Chapman, Devon Conway, Lockie Ferguson, Kyle Jamieson, Tom Latham, Daryl Mitchell, Jimmy Neesham, Glenn Phillips, Rachin Ravindra, Mitch Santner, Ish Sodhi, Tim Southee, Will Young.
Sri Lanka: Kusal Mendis (c), Kusal Perera, Pathum Nissanka, Dushmantha Chameera, Dimuth Karunaratne, Sadeera Samarawickrama, Charith Asalanka, Dhananjaya de Silva, Maheesh Theekshana, Dunith Wellalage, Kasun Rajitha, Angelo Mathews, Dilshan Madushanka, Dushan Hemantha, Chamika Karunaratne.
Match starts at 2 PM.