New Zealand have one eye on Bengaluru weather as World Cup qualification race intensifies

Black Caps face Sri Lanka on Thursday with rain forecast

New Zealand's Kane Williamson during a training session at the M. Chinnaswamy Stadium in Bengaluru. AFP
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With three World Cup semi-finals spots already occupied, the fight for the last remaining slot is mainly a battle between three teams: New Zealand, Pakistan, and Afghanistan.

The Afghans had a golden chance to all but secure their passage into the next round after they had reduced Australia to 91-7 while defending 292 in Mumbai on Tuesday. But their hopes were crushed by Glenn Maxwell who hit the greatest innings in ODI history, smashing an unbeaten double ton on one leg after being severely cramped.

That result not only sent Australia through to the last four, but also gave other teams one last opportunity to qualify.

New Zealand have the most realistic chance when they face Sri Lanka in Bengaluru on Thursday. The Kiwis are tied on eight points alongside Pakistan and Afghanistan with fours wins and as many defeats for all three sides.

The Black Caps have the better net run rate (0.398) among the three contenders, so are in the best position to vie for the knockouts. If they defeat Sri Lanka, it will be extremely difficult for Pakistan to better their NRR (0.036) even if they defeat England later on Saturday.

However, putting a spanner in the works for New Zealand is the weather. Rain is forecast for much of Thursday in Bengaluru and if points are shared, it will allow Pakistan and even Afghanistan to overtake the Kiwis.

"We'll still have to very much see what the pitch is like. There's been a lot of weather around and it could look different tomorrow," said New Zealand captain Kane Williamson.

"There's lots of things that we can't control and the weather is one of those. There may be a thought in the back of your mind, but at the end of the day, our focus will be on the cricket that we want to play."

Williamson's team lost a rain-hit match at the same venue last weekend against Pakistan despite posting a mammoth 401. Pakistan won by 21 runs via the DLS method after scoring 200-1 in 25.3 overs thanks to a belligerent Fakhar Zaman, edging ahead on the required run rate when the game was halted due to the weather.

It has been a familiar tale. New Zealand won their first four matches in India before losing the next four. They similarly struggled to make the semis in 2019 but were able to turn things around and reach the final, which they went on to tie.

"I suppose guys have had some of those experiences, but it's another game on another day and four years later," Williamson said. "So, the focus is here and now and on the conditions, and how we want to adjust."

That the Kiwis have a decent shot at the semis is also down to the incredible knock by Maxwell. Had Australia lost Tuesday's match from 91-7, Afghanistan would have jumped to 10 points and would have most certainly gained substantial NRR points.

"An incredibly special knock," Williamson said of Maxwell. "Not just the runs specifically but the situation.

"He was clearly struggling physically and to be able to pull that off and in a partnership with Pat Cummins is without a doubt one of the great World Cup victories for Australia and probably for any team to witness."

Updated: November 08, 2023, 11:27 AM