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New Zealand's World Cup Ride Skids Off The Road

29/03/2015 7:49 PM IST | Updated 28/06/2016 11:01 PM IST
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Australia's Shane Watson, right, and Steve Smith raise their bats and take the final run for their seven wicket win over New Zealand in the Cricket World Cup final in Melbourne, Australia, Sunday, March 29, 2015. (AP Photo/Andy Brownbill)

This article is from Cricbuzz.

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By Jamie Alter

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Somewhere between Wellington and Napier, not too far out of Palmerston North, before the flat terrain gives way to a hilly landscape, there is a large sign warning over-speeding motorbike drivers. "MOTORCYCLISTS! THE ROAD IS NOT A RACETRACK" it screams out at bikers keen to put the pedal to the medal.

"The ground slipped from beneath their feet, the result of a series of reckless strokes against the finest pair of left-arm quicks in tandem,

Melbourne is as far removed from anything in New Zealand, but on a flat MCG surface during Sunday's final, a group of New Zealanders were guilty of getting ahead of themselves. They got carried away, starting with Brendon McCullum who failed to get bat on any of the three balls he faced before he was bowled in the opening over of the final. Some of them threw their bats at warm air, some swished and others slogged. It wasn't pretty. It was decisive. The ground slipped from beneath their feet, the result of a series of reckless strokes against the finest pair of left-arm quicks in tandem, backed by an assortment of left-arm stuff from a bowler whose imprint on Australia's seven-wicket win was the biggest.

Was this the way McCullum and his team-mates had played all World Cup? Yes and no. Yes, it embodied the aggressive, nothing-is-too-difficult approach of this team. But the difference today was that barring one partnership, there was no second gear. No settling in, looking to dig deep. It was almost haphazard. The MCG surface on which McCullum opted to bat had runs in it. New Zealand should have got to at least 250. But they didn't.

And so, a dazzling, event-filled run has ended for McCullum, his Blackcaps team-mates, the entire team management and support staff and a country captivated by their success over the past six-odd weeks.

The end was limp, so far removed from the cricket that New Zealand have played under McCullum between February 14 in Christchurch and Sunday at the MCG. It was poor, especially the batting. You don't win many games of cricket when you're 39 for 3 and then lose three wickets for one run in 14 balls of a batting Powerplay. Sometimes you can defend 183, but when it's against a superb Australian team playing at home, with most of the 93,000 people gathered at cricket's great colosseum, where they are so familiar with the conditions and dimensions, you cannot. Not even if you're New Zealand under the aggressive McCullum, coming into your first World Cup final unbeaten all tournament.

This match was decided in the first 45 overs, during which New Zealand were bowled out for 183 after McCullum chose to bat. New Zealand lost three quick wickets and then imploded magnificently after a rehabilitating century stand for the fourth wicket between Ross Taylor and Grant Elliott, their hero in that epic win over South Africa in the Eden Park semi-final. New Zealand were rattled by left-arm pace, losing their iconic captain for zero in the first over bowled by the excellent Mitchell Starc and then Kane Williamson to Mitchell Johnson, playing another meek shot.

They were revived by a sensible, attractive innings from Elliott in the partnership with Taylor, but it was the latter's leaden-footed slash at the first ball of the batting Powerplay that triggered that silly collapse. It was the first ball of a new James Faulkner over, and it was crippling. Faulkner, bowling left-arm medium pace - cutters, sliders, slower balls - then removed Corey Anderson two balls later with a yorker that the allrounder missed.

New Zealand failed to judge the conditions, as many predicted. They bolted ahead, skidded, and crashed. The road was there to be driven on, but they careened.

Back came Starc, and the next batsman to go was Luke Ronchi - born in Australia, migrated to New Zealand - for the third duck of the innings. New Zealand scored just 15 runs off the batting Powerplay and lost three wickets. Back came Johnson, and out went Daniel Vettori in his final innings for New Zealand. Faulkner added the big wicket of Elliott for 83 from 82 balls, swiping recklessly, and Johnson nailed young Matt Henry for 0. Eight of ten wickets to the left-arm stuff. Game over.

New Zealand needed something of epic proportions or Eden Park standards to derail a strong Australian batting order, but could not. McCullum set his usual fields. Three slips, a gully, a catching cover too. His new-ball bowlers worked up pace. There was an early wicket, to who else but Trent Boult. There were appeals as deliveries thudded into the pads. The fielders sprinted, slid and dived. One ball took the inside edge and rolled onto the stumps, but the bails weren't dislodged. Michael Clarke and Steven Smith defied, dazzled, cracked boundaries, laughed. New Zealand drowned in a sea of gold that was yellower than a Coldplay song.

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New Zealand failed to judge the conditions, as many predicted. They bolted ahead, skidded, and crashed. The road was there to be driven on, but they careened.

The dream has fizzled. It was something of a nightmare today. Tomorrow morning the sun will come up, but it will be dark. And yet McCullum and his men can be proud of what they achieved across these six weeks, lifting their nation to new heights. They failed at the summit, but will be remembered for the magic that got them to the World Cup final.

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Photos: Australia Vs New Zealand Cricket World Cup Finals

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