By Niall Anderson in Birmingham
In February, Black Caps coach Gary Stead made a surprising admission – he wasn’t sure his side had made enough progress to topple the world’s best one-day sides.
Through four games of the Cricket World Cup, he almost certainly still has the same problem.
Off the back of a 4-1 ODI series defeat to India this summer, Stead acknowledged that his side had been exposed by the world’s second-ranked side.
“India obviously exposed some areas that we wanted to keep brushing up on, and the brutal truth of it is until we play those guys again, we don’t actually [know if we’ve learned] that lesson or not.”
Now, after their clash against India at Trent Bridge was washed out, the Black Caps still can’t be certain if they’ve made the necessary adjustments to beat the title contenders.
That is the potential long-term cost of the rainout in Nottingham. While the point they gained for the abandonment aids their semifinal chances – further enhanced by the West Indies’ defeat to England – the Black Caps still haven’t proven themselves against the favourites to raise the Cup, and now won’t get a chance to do so until their final two pool games, when they face Australia and England.
What Stead said four months ago still holds remarkable relevance, having also downplayed the importance of victories in the New Zealand summer over Sri Lanka and Bangladesh – two teams the Black Caps have already beaten at his World Cup.
“Without being disrespectful to Sri Lanka or Bangladesh, they weren’t in the same standard of a really top Indian team,” Stead said in February, and the same holds true today, with the pair of early victories being good wins to bag, but not being indicative of any future success for the Black Caps.
Getting to play against India would have been though, and, having largely dismissed the significance of their warm-up win over the same opposition, the Black Caps camp was disappointed not to get their chance to finally test themselves against the best in a match that mattered.
“It was a game that the guys were looking forward to,” said Black Caps seamer Tim Southee.
“You obviously want to play as much as you can – the weather has been kind to us so far and playing a tournament in this part of the world, the weather’s always going to play a part at some stage.
“It’s better than a loss, but it’s also a chance where we weren’t able to get out and keep our winning record going.”
Unsurprisingly, Stead was also rueful about the missed opportunity.
“We would have loved to have played India. They’re obviously going hot, and we feel as though we’re playing reasonably well as well, so it would have been a really nice matchup.”
Perhaps that meeting – which would be their first at a World Cup since 2003 – may still come, in the semifinals. But if they get there, the Black Caps still won’t be sure if they have learned their lesson.
The Alternative Commentary Collective are podcasting their way through the World Cup. Known for their unconventional sports analysis and off-kilter banter, the ACC have come to ask the tough questions. Here’s the latest episode of ‘The Agenda’:
WARNING: GRAPHIC CONTENT