And so the BlackCaps are in the World Cup final. What a result! If you’d asked anyone – players, fans, administrators – at the start of the tournament if they would take a second consecutive finals appearance, it would’ve been met with a resounding “hell yes!”
But, unlike 2015, undefeated and spurred on by home crowds, the 2019 BlackCaps have snuck into these knockout rounds, looking unsteady and dubious along the way.
Now, before we go any further, let the record show that, for my sins, I am a BlackCaps fan forever and always. In the early hours of Thursday morning, I again experienced that unique combination of nausea and tears as the Indian innings was coming to an end. I was spurred through a work day, sleep deprived, purely on the euphoria of knowing we’d won – a scene played out in many workplaces around the country.
I love this team.
But good lord it’s not always been an easy watch, this tournament. Scheduling worked in our favour, playing the lesser-strength teams early, banking points and the increasingly important net run rate. The first sign that the weather gods would be on our side was when our round robin clash with India was rained out. That barometer we had been counting on to either fan or temper the flame of assuredness didn’t happen. We didn’t know where we sat in comparison to the ‘big boys’.
Then we lost our way a little. Or let’s reframe that, the batting contingent lost their way. Well-publicised and oft-critiqued opening partnerships failed, leaving Kane Williamson and Ross Taylor to fix it, again. And when they couldn’t turn in match-winning centuries every time, we looked shaky.
An important note – our bowlers have more than held their own. They have saved us on more than one occasion, and the most comforting part is that it’s been as a unit. Be it hattrick hero Trent Boult, tight-at-the-death Jimmy Neesham, or pacey Ferguson, the frontline bowlers have made their mark and been the backbone of the winning performances.
A two wicket win over Bangladesh. A second-to-last over win against South Africa. A five-run victory over the West Indies. Then the wobbles came. Three back to back losses against Pakistan, England and Australia. We were playing with big boys now, and things didn’t look good. What we could let slide against Afghanistan and Sri Lanka was found out against the higher-calibre sides. Pitches notwithstanding, the BlackCaps failed to score over 200 chasing England and Australia, resulting in a loss of control over their own fate and needing other circumstances – no matter how preposterous – to play out and confirm their place in the knock out rounds.
This is where the disregard around the world kicked in. India, Australia and England were clearly so far ahead of the pack, no one gave the Kiwis a chance. The critics had receipts too – we came into the semi final off the back of three losses, and the wins we did have weren’t exactly convincing. The “nice guys” had made the semis, and that was cute, but they were only there for the Indians to sharpen their swords before they (and their mass viewership) marched into one of either two ideal finals – against fierce rivals Australia, or hosts England.
As they say, the rest is history. Unusual circumstances and another visit from our mates in the weather department, and this team of Kiwi battlers found a way to win. And hey, maybe it’s because the Indians also found a way to lose, but if any team knows how to best play the hand they’ve been dealt, it’s this BlackCaps squad.
So we head into another World Cup final; unconvincing, inconsistent, unlikely. At time of writing, our opponent is yet to be decided, but regardless, one thing remains certain.
Don’t look away – this team is like a box of chocolates.
Go get ‘em, boys.
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