Ish Sodhi and Mitchell Santner, 23 and 24 respectively, neither look nor sound dangerous. They don't possess a big bank of glittering past performances to fall back upon and no weighty reputation to keep. When New Zealand played three spinners, including Nathan McCullum, in their opening game against India, it may have come across as a case of a foreign side overestimating the spin-friendly nature of Indian surfaces. All it took was 18.1 overs in the chase in Nagpur for such theories to be debunked.
The Santner-Sodhi partnership has earned New Zealand 13 wickets at an economy rate of 5.29 in three matches and has inarguably been at the heart of New Zealand bossing their way to the semi-finals. It's been as emphatic an ambush as any with many players yet to work out the methods of Sodhi and Santner. What is worth remembering is this isn't so much a selection punt as just reward for their recent consistent performances. Their recent numbers are a good place to start.
Since December last year, Santner has picked up 21 wickets from 16 limited-overs games at an average of 20.61, while Sodhi has helped himself to nine from eight limited-overs matches at 20.88. That they are team-mates at the domestic level and are good friends has only strengthened their symphony. "We've played a lot of domestic cricket together for the Northern Districts, played some crucial roles with him in Twenty20 and one-day cricket," Sodhi said. "To be able to do it at this level is really pleasing, and to have a good friend, a good partner at the other end, helps me want to support him really nicely from the other end."
Sodhi said he and Santner always had Daniel Vettori's ear and reaped the benefits of picking his brains. Sodhi, however, felt there were few similarities between Santner and Vettori as left-arm spinners. "For us to have had Dan [Vettori] for advise and support is really, really good because he's done that for years and to have that voice to go to whenever needed is really nice for him and myself as well.
"I think he is a fantastic bowler in his own right," Sodhi said. "A lot of people are comparing Santner to Vettori but they are completely different bowlers and I think Santner is being himself as much as he can and it's working really well for him. I'm hoping he can continue for a long period of time."
Santner's strength, according to Sodhi, was the ferocious rip he exerted on the ball - an upshot of pitches in New Zealand not facilitating appreciable turn. Consequently, his menace has been amplified on friendlier pitches like the ones in the World T20. "Santner is a finger spinner but he really puts revs on like a leg-spin bowler, he puts a lot of revs on the ball," he said. "But you have to do that in the conditions we were brought up in because they are not very conducive to spin, so you have to get something out of the wicket and I think he is a product of that. And over here when he puts a lot of revs on the ball he becomes even harder to play. It's probably a product of where we grow up and it's seeming to hold him in pretty good stead over here."
Sodhi attributed his own development as a legspinner over the last few years to working on his fitness and discussing his game with his coaches and mentors. "I have met quite a few players who I feed off, quite a few mentors, coaches and stuff like that," he said. "A lot of the work that I put into my game over the last year or so has been really good. Trying to keep things simple - try and put revs on the ball and put it in the right area - it's as simple as it has to be. Three or four years of learning the game and going through struggles and things like that and it's all coming to the fore now."
New Zealand have not been shy of fielding different combinations during the World T20, after factoring the conditions and the opposition's strength. Sodhi, who admitted to being surprised by the amount of turn on offer, said New Zealand's preparedness and adaptability helped them invariably settle in on the best XI.
"To be completely honest I didn't expect it to turn as much as it has. Most of the tournaments that I have watched over here in the past few years have been pretty decent batting surfaces," he said. "Then [for it] to turn as much has been unexpected but we have had to adapt and I think we have done that pretty well so far.
"Selection really comes down to the last day. The selections are made by the captain and the coach and you have to put the trust in them that they are going to provide the right team to combat the conditions. We are really blessed to have some good people out there making those decisions and they've done a really good job so far. Kane [Williamson] as a captain has been really good over here. He's really a very good captain when it comes to teaching you to adapt to different conditions because he does with his own batting skill as well."