cricket:image:1437438 [900x506]
cricket:image:1437438 [900x506] (Credit: ICC/Getty Images)

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Kane Williamson guides a legbreak from Rashid Khan straight into the lap of Gulbadin Naib at first slip and throws his head back in disappointment.

Williamson's get-out-of-jail shot is the dab, against both spin and pace, but with a slip in place and the ball turning and holding up in the Providence pitch, there was no way out for him and New Zealand.

"He must have known there was a slip there," Ian Smith summed up the dismissal on TV commentary. "It's another indication of a side that hasn't played cricket."

New Zealand slid to 33 for 4 in the seventh over, in pursuit of 160. They eventually folded for 75 in 15.2 overs. Rahmanullah Gurbaz had outscored them with 80 off 56 balls.

New Zealand batted, bowled, and fielded like a side that was desperately short on match practice. Their full-strength T20I team had last played together at the end of their home summer against Australia in February. While a second-string side toured Pakistan for a five-match T20I series in April, some of New Zealand's key personnel, including captain Williamson and finisher Glenn Phillips, spent most of the IPL on the bench. Openers Devon Conway and Finn Allen were coming into the T20 World Cup after having just recovered from injuries. Neither had featured in the IPL or the Pakistan series.

The cobwebs had gathered so much dust that it was impossible for New Zealand to brush them off in three hours. Allen, who was patrolling the longer leg-side boundary, lost the ball under lights and dropped Ibrahim Zadran on 13 in the fifth over. In the next over, Conway failed to gather an accurate throw and fluffed a run-out chance. Gurbaz was on 19 at that point. The opening pair punished New Zealand's sloppiness in the field and pressed on to forge 103 in 14.3 overs. There were a number of other fielding lapses in an un-New Zealand performance that had all the players red-faced, including Williamson.

"Our fielding didn't help our cause without a doubt," Williamson said after the game. "That would be the most frustrating part for me. "It is something we pride ourselves on, so that was very disappointing but that performance from us married up to an outstanding performance from Afghanistan meant that it wasn't good enough and they showed their skill today and we were outplayed."

New Zealand's batting was just as shaky, with the ball swinging more under lights in the night than it did in the evening. After left-arm seamer Fazalhaq Farooqi wrecked the top order, Rashid and co. used the low bounce and skid offered by the Providence pitch to their advantage. And of course, there's always some turn as well at the venue. Rashid is familiar with all of that, having played for Guyana Amazon Warriors in the CPL in 2017. Gurbaz is also used to these conditions, having turned out for Amazon Warriors more recently in 2022.

Especially in hindsight, it feels like New Zealand might have been better off had they participated in warm-up games. Sure, their players had arrived in three batches and they had logistical challenges to deal with, but could they have squeezed in some warm-up fixtures like a similarly undermanned Australia had done in the lead-up to the T20 World Cup?

Former New Zealand fast bowler and a current expert at ESPNcricinfo, Mitchell McClenaghan, was puzzled at New Zealand's decision to opt out of playing warm-up matches.

"To turn down a couple of warm-up games…you've got a lot of players that haven't played and sat on the bench in the IPL," McClenaghan said on the Timeout show. "Conway looked incredibly out of touch. Finn Allen, in his case, didn't go to Pakistan with a back injury. All these guys haven't played in the last month or so and then also haven't played in the Caribbean. So, to turn down those two warm-up games, to me, is mind-bowling and should be put under scrutiny."

Former New Zealand coach Mike Hesson, who had coached Islamabad United to the PSL title earlier this year, was also critical of New Zealand's fielding and their decision to rock up cold without playing warm-ups.

"We looked really underdone," Hesson told Sky Sport NZ. "We actually looked disinterested at times when things actually started to not go our way. The body language dropped in the field, which is certainly not what Kane Williamson will be pleased with at all. From there, they gave Afghanistan a bit of momentum and there were some chances that New Zealand missed. Devon Conway certainly looked like he hadn't played cricket in three months, which he obviously hadn't, and I felt for him. The fact that there's been no warm-up games for this Black Caps side...unfortunately, there was no surprise with the performance they put in."

Given the draw - New Zealand were among the last of the 20 teams to start the T20 World Cup - they were always meant to play catch-up. Their 84-run drubbing in their opener has now put them so far behind that they're on the brink of being knocked out in an obvious group of death, in which Afghanistan and West Indies have coasted to two wins each. Afghanistan's eye-popping net run-rate of 5.225 means they already have one foot in the Super Eights, leaving New Zealand facing West Indies, who also have a healthy run-rate (3.574), in a must-win on June 12 in Trinidad, the home to several West Indies T20 superstars.

In their most recent T20I match at the Brian Lara Cricket Academy, West Indies toppled England for a 3-2 series win, with left-arm fingerspinners Akeal Hosein and Gudakesh Motie taking five wickets between them for just 44 runs in their eight overs on a sluggish track last December. New Zealand understand that they have no margin for error from hereon.

"Well, they [West Indies] are an amazing T20 team. They're a strong team that can change the game very quickly and it's obviously their home conditions as well," Luke Ronchi, New Zealand's batting coach, said upon the squad's arrival in Trinidad on Saturday. "They have a lot of guys from Trinidad playing in their team, so they know the conditions and the ground at the Brian Lara Stadium. It's [about] making sure we do what we do. That's something we missed in the first game."

Even if New Zealand hit the ground running against West Indies, they could well suffer an early exit, considering their poor net run-rate (minus 4.2), unless the co-hosts lose to Afghanistan.

One rust-ridden, un-New Zealand performance may have unravelled an entire World Cup campaign.