New Zealand isn’t a big place, and it doesn’t have many inhabitants. In 2014, the recorded population was just over 4.5 million. That is the lowest figure of any Test playing nation, and barring the West Indies, by quite some margin.
Cricket isn’t even New Zealand’s national sport, far from it. That is Rugby, and with good reason too.
They have two World Cups to their name in that sport. Over 7% of adult New Zealanders play cricket, but it has never commanded national attention like Rugby.
And as a result, the Black Caps have never really taken the world game by storm. Sure, they have had their share of great cricketers.
Richard Hadlee was a great cricketer. He was part of that quartet of all-rounders that shone brightly in the 80’s, standing alongside Imran Khan, Kapil Dev and Ian Botham.
Martin Crowe was a great batsman, one who oozed class. He has 17 test centuries to his name. During the span of Martin Crowe’s Test career, New Zealand played 94 tests.
In the same time frame England played 137. Australia played 130. Crowe could have scored many more test runs, had he been from a bigger cricketing nation.
In the modern era, New Zealand have continued to provide some gems. Daniel Vettori has taken over 650 international wickets with his intelligent yet unspectacular brand of left arm spin, yet you would barely have noticed had you not been paying close attention.
Shane Bond was an electrifying fast bowler, who but for injury would surely have taken countless amounts of wickets against hapless, cowering opponents.
Stephen Fleming, who was often deprived of the services of Bond whilst captain, is generally seen as one of the great brains of modern cricket. Fleming has the most number of wins as New Zealand captain, and he led his side to their singular world title to date, the inaugural Champions trophy.
Yet New Zealand have always remained on the periphery. If you don’t follow cricket attentively, they would barely enter your stream of consciousness.
A consistent paucity of options means they are unable to challenge the supremacy of the bigger nations more than one series at a time.
Barring Bangladesh and Sri Lanka, the Black caps are the only Test side not to have been ranked at number 1 in in their history.
New Zealand’s World Cup finishes have been consistent, if not remarkable. Perennial dark horses, they have reached the semi-finals in 6 out of 11 World Cups. But they have never gone one further.
Yet you sense this time something could be different. Something has stirred in New Zealand cricket in these past 18 months. They are unbeaten in their last five test series, winning four, drawing one.
That Draw came against Pakistan in the UAE, a result their more haughty neighbours Australia couldn’t muster months before.
New Zealand have won four of their last 5 ODI series’ as well. Brendon McCullum, a rambunctious, destructive batsman, has developed into a phlegmatic leader capable of drawing the best out the options at his disposal.
And these options are perhaps as good as New Zealand have ever had. Alongside McCullum, the Black Caps can count on the stolid, unassuming Kane Williamson, who is quietly forging a reputation as one of the world’s next stars.
Ross Taylor remains a stalwart of the middle order, and continues to score heavily despite the controversial loss of captaincy.
In Corey Anderson they have the man who until recently held the record for the fastest ODI hundred, which came in 36 balls against the West Indies at Queenstown last year.
Luke Ronchi, a wicketkeeper with little reputation, recently struck 170 off 99 balls against Sri Lanka, striding to the crease with his side 93-5.
New Zealand are moving with the times. In a day where 300 may not be enough, the Black caps have the required firepower to make scores in excess of 330. They are lead of course, by McCullum at the top of the order.
Their bowling unit has plenty about it too. Over the last two years in Test cricket Trent Boult and Tim Southee have formed one of the most effective opening new-ball partnerships, devilish enough to take wickets rather than just sit back and contain.
The evergreen Kyle Mills has 240 ODI wickets under his belt, and the powerful Mitchell McClenaghan has made an impressive start to his career.
In the spin department, Daniel Vettori will do what he has always done, taking wickets at a good rate while stubbornly refusing to let the batsman dominate him.
For the first time in a long time, it feels like New Zealand have all the tools at their disposal. Just over two years ago they were plunged into crisis when Ross Taylor was unceremoniously removed as skipper.
He was replaced by Brendon McCullum. But once that sorry saga was put to bed, the Black Caps have not looked back. A youthful squad capable of destruction, playing on home soil, New Zealand suddenly don’t seem like dark horses anymore.
They might not win the World Cup. They might fall again at the semi-final, to the more fancied Australia or South Africa.
If that were to happen, they would go without fuss, just as they usually do.
But you can’t help but feel that this is their best chance yet, and who knows, it may be their best chance for the next 20 years to come.
And for that reason, a New Zealand win would be a welcome win.