The Black Caps' undefeated march to the World Twenty20 semi-finals means the side that international pundits initially dismissed as "a lesser team" are now tournament favourites, New Zealand media said Wednesday.
The New Zealanders seized their place in the final four with a 22-run win over Pakistan in Mohali on Tuesday, adding to a string of scalps that already includes India and Australia.
All three results would have been considered upsets at the start of the tournament, but NZ Herald cricket writer Andrew Alderson said the Black Caps were on track for their biggest-ever achievement on the world stage.
“New Zealand’s three convincing victories mean they now loom as a favourite to take out their maiden World Cup or World T20 title,” he wrote.
Former England captain Michael Vaughan ruffled Kiwi feathers last week when he criticised India for allowing “lesser teams into the game” during their tournament opener against the Black Caps.
New Zealand fans also noted that Indian television commentators seemed incredulous that the underdogs ground out a 47-run victory over the highly-fancied hosts in Nagpur.
But the win over Pakistan means they will no longer be underestimated, with Fairfax New Zealand’s Duncan Johnstone labelling them “the team to beat at the Twenty20 World Cup”.
“While we marvelled at their bold spin-win over hosts India and delighted in seeing off old foe Australia, the nature of the victory over Pakistan has New Zealand looking like the real deal to win the World T20 title,” he said.
Johnstone pointed to New Zealand’s potent young spin attack and their batting depth, underlined by Martin Guptill’s 80 off 48 balls in Mohali.
He said the most impressive aspect of the win was the way the Black Caps refused to panic as Pakistan made a strong start to their run chase, instead setting about strangling the innings.
“This is a team that looks increasingly good at defending totals as well as setting them,” he wrote.
Radio Sport cricket commentator Bryan Waddle praised skipper Kane Williamson, who is new to the job after replacing Brendon McCullum but has shown a willingness to pick players on form and forged a winning unit.
“They’ve done it in style against some of the best teams in the world... it just highlights where this team is at the moment,” he said.
New Zealand have only reached the semis of the World T20 once before, at the inaugural event in 2007.
They were the form team going into the final of last year’s World Cup before collapsing against Australia at the Melbourne Cricket Ground.
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