Former New Zealand batsman Ross Taylor says there are no clear favourites till now in a wide open Twenty20 World Cup as conditions in Australia have kept a level playing field.
Defending champions Australia bowed out of the tournament after England's win over Sri Lanka on Saturday, a result that made the Three Lions enter the semi-finals alongside New Zealand in Group 1.
Less fancied teams had their moments in a cup of upsets from Namibia shocking Asian champions Sri Lanka in the opener to Ireland knocking out two-time champions West Indies in round one. England suffered a shock defeat to Ireland in a rain-affected Super 12 match and Zimbabwe stunned Pakistan in a last-ball thriller at Perth.
"New Zealand, South Africa and Australia were the teams struggling the most with their form leading up to it and here we are talking about South Africa and New Zealand making the semi-finals," Taylor told AFP.
"It's about the day really and that's what I have enjoyed about this World Cup. The team that performs on the day are having a big impact, a few of these upsets and stuff like that."
India, South Africa, Pakistan and Bangladesh jostle for two semi-final berths from Group 2 on Sunday. From the wet weather in Melbourne, which witnessed three of the four washouts, to windy and bouncy Perth and the cool Adelaide, the pitches in Australia have offered a large range.
Last year's tournament in the United Arab Emirates favoured the team chasing as 12 of 13 matches played at the Dubai International Stadium were won by the side bowling first.
"If you look at the UAE leg, the toss played a big part but here, playing at so many different venues and to adapt, it's been good to watch," said Ross, who retired from international cricket in April.
New Zealand, who lost the final to Australia in Dubai, were the first team to reach the final four with skipper Kane Williamson finding form in his team's last Super 12 match against Ireland. Williamson hit 61 off 35 deliveries to lead his team to a 35-run win on Friday and now await their semi-finals opponents from the other group.
- Perennial underdogs -
"Anytime you are scoring runs regardless of who the opposition is, you are going to get some confidence," Taylor said of Williamson.
"He is been up for scrutiny for a while now. But I think the way he played, he needed to get a score and he has kept his critics quiet for a little longer."
The perennial underdogs of world cricket, New Zealand have been made two semi-final appearances including in the 2007 inaugural edition but have never won the title. Ask Taylor if they look favourites this time around and the 38-year-old is happy to take it.
"Yeah, I think so, there is an opportunity." he said. "I think New Zealand were always like the underdogs and anytime we get that tag (of favourites) we try and take it."
Apart from a dependable batting unit, which includes this edition's second centurion Glenn Phillips and Devon Conway, the Black Caps have a potent pace attack. The veteran pace duo of Trent Boult and Tim Southee are still sharp with 13 wickets between them, but Taylor has been impressed with the South African speedsters.
"That's why South Africa have done so well. They have got the form and best bowling line-up in the tournament on bouncy wickets. (Kagiso) Rabada, (Lungi) Ngidi, (Anrich) Nortje, (Wayne) Parnell, that's a pretty formidable and balanced bowling line-up."
Taylor also praised Williamson for his leadership skills with "good lieutenants" in Southee and Boult at his service. Taylor represented New Zealand in 112 Tests, 236 ODIs and 102 T20I matches, amassing 18,199 runs across formats in a an illustrious career spanning 16 years between 2006-2022.