Over the last year, New Zealand have mastered the art of anticlimax. Only against Australia, mind you: against all comers the smaller nation blazed to the 50-over World Cup final in Melbourne in 2015, but were swiftly deflated by their trans-Tasman rivals.
New Zealand returned to the same shores last November with high hopes of beating a green Australian Test side, only to be pummelled in the first two matches and to underperform in a close third.
Then during two Tests in New Zealand in February, the visiting Australians were supposed to struggle on green pitches, but ended up boosting their batting and bowling averages on brown ones.
New Zealand did clinch the three-game Chappell-Hadlee One-Day International series with a close win in the decider, but it was their only joy in the year.
Now here we are again, with the two sides facing off in the World Twenty20, and again, New Zealand in theory go into the game as a massive chance to knock off the team in gold.
The Kiwis have just proved their world-stage credentials by opening the tournament with an enormous upset of hosts and favourites India, while Australia’s No. 1 ranking in Tests and ODIs contrasts with eighth position in the T20 International rankings.
The Australian side has no semblance of stability, with its last six international matches featuring a cast the size of a Broadway musical’s. Anyone in the island nation who has ever picked up bat or ball has had a run.
Now the final 15 come to India with four opening batsmen, no real strike bowler, a pair of spinners who debuted in the format in the last few weeks, and no apparent clue as to their best 11.
Aaron Finch and David Warner are lifelong openers, but the former was recently demoted from the T20 captaincy and the latter recently played as a floater in the middle order.
Usman Khawaja would not have been in anyone’s international side a few months back, but made an irresistible case when he almost singlehandedly carried Sydney Thunder to their first Big Bash League title in January.
Then there’s Shane Watson, a monster in the shortest form of the game, who has vast experience in this format and these conditions, and against India in January smashed the highest score by a men’s international captain, when he filled in as leader and made 124 not out.
Josh Hazlewood will do his best to carry the pace attack, but with two seam allrounders in Mitchell Marsh and James Faulkner, the make-up of the final side is difficult to predict.
New Zealand, on the other hand, have the advantage of stability after their first-up win. You wouldn’t often say that New Zealand’s spinners were key, but they used a three-pronged attack to great effect against India in Nagpur.
After four of New Zealand’s top seven made single figures, and two others had strike rates under 81, they shouldn’t have beaten anybody. But they defended 126 with ease.
Nathan McCullum struck the first blow and ended with 2 for 15. Ish Sodhi, who was so crucial in that Chappell-Hadlee decider after parachuting into the side, grabbed 3 for 18, while Mitchell Santner got an eyebrow-raising 4 for 11.
Team management will be very tempted to play them all, especially given the qualifying matches at Dharamsala have been slow, low, and offering turn.
There is of course a spectacular vista from this ground, with the Himalayas as its backdrop, but hopefully there’ll be a spectacle on the ground as well. Persistent rain in the lead-up has the locals shaking their heads philosophically.
But if the clouds clear, it will be over to New Zealand to start clearing their recent record against Australia.
New Zealand (from): Kane Williamson (capt), Corey Anderson, Trent Boult, Martin Guptill, Grant Elliott, Colin Munro, Mitchell McClenaghan, Nathan McCullum, Adam Milne, Henry Nicholls, Luke Ronchi, Mitchell Santner, Ish Sodhi, Tim Southee, Ross Taylor.
Australia (from): Steven Smith (capt), David Warner, Ashton Agar, Nathan Coulter-Nile, James Faulkner, Aaron Finch, John Hastings, Josh Hazlewood, Usman Khawaja, Mitchell Marsh, Glenn Maxwell, Peter Nevill, Andrew Tye, Shane Watson, Adam Zampa.