Auckland, July 17, 2019
The Black Caps conducted themselves remarkably well in the aftermath of the Cricket World Cup final.
As the drinks began to flow and the tales got taller in the hours that followed their dramatic tie with England, you imagine a skerrick of satisfaction grew within the group.
They had again over-achieved at a pinnacle event and shown great dignity in defeat.
But the cold light of day would have changed that, and media interviews with the team brains trust indicated they were a deflated lot the next morning.
Dignity and Regret
As they should be. For all their resolve and effort, the Black Caps should have regrets about their selections and tactics throughout the tournament and the final itself.
New Zealand are not World Cup Champions because they didn’t score enough runs: not in the final and not prior to that either.
Sure, they cut their cloth to suit and thanks to being a good bowling and fielding unit adopted the tactic of putting a modest total on the board and hoping chasing would prove difficult.
It worked in the semi-final against India but, with too few runs to spare, was something of a failure in the final.
Moments such as Trent Boult’s boot on the boundary rope or the ricochet from Ben Stokes’ bat became significant because the Black Caps’ total of 241-8 left no margin for error.
Teams are at an advantage to the rest of us general fans: they are armed with all the information about players and their temperament, they know who they can actually rely upon in a match and who they can’t.
Risk of humiliation
Then there’s the self-interest factor. We can all huff and puff about Player X as opposed to Player Y, but our Ideal XIs don’t play.
New Zealand Captain Kane Williamson and Coach Gary Stead actually face the prospect of humiliation on a grand scale if they pick the wrong people.
That said, it was hard to fathom what Henry Nicholls was doing in the team.
The opening positions were a problem throughout this Tournament.
Martin Guptill, by his own high standards, was dreadful, averaging 20.66 at a strike-rate of 84.
There is a variety of reasons why you don’t drop a guy like him. We all get that.
But Colin Munro got binned for averaging 25 runs a pop at a strike-rate of 98. Seems weird to say one bloke’s not up to it, when the supposed star he opens with is actually going worse. Particularly given that Munro actually middled a few in his brief stays at the crease.
But, hey, New Zealand felt that they had to act, so out went Munro.
Fine, but to be replaced by Nicholls, who scored 91 runs at 22.75 and a strike-rate of 61?
Strike-rate was an issue for the Black Caps given the premium on the wickets of Williamson and Ross Taylor. Both men were sluggish most of the way through the tournament, often because if they got out the innings was effectively over, but the pair can afford to take their time if a strike rate has been established and someone is still maintaining it at the other end.
One of the issues in the final was how slow Nicholls was.
Yes, there was some intent once he had faced 30 or 40 balls, but you could argue that Guptill and Williamson were both dismissed, thanks to the strike-rate pressure Nicholls had created.
Perhaps, as ex-coach Mike Hesson said, Tom Latham should have opened?
He was not in great nick himself but with no Munro and Guptill not firing, New Zealand had plenty of plodders in their top-five.
Would Munro making 25 at almost a run a ball have made a difference in the final?
We ill never know.
Had Latham opened, then maybe Tom Blundell could have kept wickets and batted at five or six. He made 106 in New Zealand’s last warm-up match, but wasn’t sighted during the tournament.
Again, teams have all the information about their players and they clearly felt Blundell was not up to it.
It is funny, though. There was a great hue and cry about Blundell and Ish Sodhi making the squad and yet they only played one match between them. People waste a lot of time debating the merits of guys who won’t actually play and it’ll happen all over again when the All Blacks’ Rugby World Cup squad is named.
The Black Caps carried themselves very well at this Tournament and people are proud of that. Their bowlers were often outstanding, as was the majority of the fielding.
The batting let them down, though. There were not enough runs and what runs there were came too slowly.
It is for that reason alone that they are not Cricket World Cup Champions.
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