The cricketing giants may have won the trophy but the Blackcaps won more hearts despite their docile performance.
It was a Kiwi dream for the Blackcaps to reach the Final but the Aussies had shrugged it off earlier, underestimating the determination of the young Blackcaps team.
I recall a meeting with Shane Bond, the team’s bowling coach, over a year ago during which he talked about building a core team for the Cricket World Cup, and more importantly, embedding a belief that they had the potential to make it to the Final.
This discussion was at the end of the infamous Ross Taylor captaincy saga.
I had my doubts then. I have been proved wrong.
The Blackcaps’ stellar performances through the Tournament saw them garner huge support from an otherwise rugby-crazy nation. With each game, the country began to have a stronger conviction that we could be the champions.
If New Zealand had one weakness, it had to be our predictably unpredictable batting line-up. Unfortunately, the batting did not fire when it mattered the most.
The first glimpse of this weakness was evident when the team made a mess of a relatively simple chase against Australia in the pool game.
This was because the batting of Black Caps was erroneous and they were facing world-class bowlers. New Zealand pulled it off by one wicket but the weakness was exposed.
New Zealand appeared not to make much of this pool match because we were victorious on the night.
But for the Aussies, this was a wakeup call. Their captain Michael Clarke admitted that the game was a ‘kick in the backside’ and committed to fire on all cylinders going forth.
From there on, they steamrolled their way past all teams and in the process made India and New Zealand, the two unbeaten sides of the Tournament, look somewhat ordinary in the semi-final and final respectively.
We should be proud of the build-up and achievements of Blackcaps leading up to the Final. They deserved to win the Tournament not only for their hard work and true spirit but also for producing a winning team despite its small population.
Nevertheless, I was perplexed with their approach in the Final.
During the interviews leading to the big day, Clarke talked about their chances of winning the Cup but Brendon McCullum muttered meek comments about how tough it would be to beat Australia at the MCG.
I found this strange, coming from a team that dominated the Tournament.
Did the ‘torture’ of Mitchel Starc at Eden Park scare them?
When the big moment arrived, New Zealand won a rare toss and things went out of control very early.
The pace attack of Australians was accurate and fearsome, causing trouble and feasting on McCullum’s vulnerability of a carefree attacking approach.
His strategy may have been to unsettle Starc from the outset.
The Aussie had been the outstanding bowler of the Tournament with incredible accuracy at tremendous pace. But McCullum’s high-octane batting style saw no restraint.
After being beaten in the two previous deliveries, McCullum was slow in defending a magnificent swinging delivery.
From then on, New Zealand kept losing wickets at regular intervals to superior bowling by the Aussies. Either side of Grant Elliott and Ross Taylor’s 111-run stand, the visitors succumbed to the highly disciplined bowling unit from the men in gold.
Elliot continued his fine form from the semi-final against South Africa and was the only batsman to stand up to the barrage of this top-quality bowling.
Trent Boult’s wicket of Aaron Finch in the second over provided a momentary hope for the Blackcaps. However, Australia’s strong batting line-up ensured the target was met without hiccups. Clarke’s swansong innings resulted in another fluent half-century from the skipper, a perfect way to end a polished one-day career.
‘Pup,’ as he is affectionately known, had battled prolonged injury lay-offs as well as much-publicised dressing room debacles to return as team captain and leave on his terms.
The Tournament also set the stage for retirements for some cricketing greats.
Joining Clarke in quitting the 50 over format were Sri Lankan batting legends Kumar Sangakarra and Mahela Jayawardene. Blackcap favourite Daniel Vettori also bid adieu to the international stage after a terrific show at the Tournament.
As expected, Australia continued their long-lasting dominance of the game.
What was remarkable was the effort by Blackcaps, barring their lacklustre performance in the finals.
Boult and Martin Guptill were outstanding. After many years, it was not Kane Williamson or Ross Taylor that the team had to depend. The whole team played as a unit and excelled collectively.
They have certainly made all New Zealanders proud. Their performance has done much to rekindle love for cricket in New Zealand.
After nearly a decade of ordinary performances, the Blackcaps have captured the hearts of not only many New Zealanders but also global cricket lovers.
Photo : Blackcaps received warm welcome in Auckland on March 31 (Picture: Lawrence Smith/Fairfax NZ)