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New Zealand’s Last Stand

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New_Zealand_v_Australia_World_Cup_2015_FinalThe Battle of Little BigHorn in 1876, also known as Custer’s Last Stand, is one of the most famous engagements of the “Indian Wars” in America. Fought between the seventh cavalry regiment of the United States army and the combined forces of the Lakota and Cheyenne tribes, it was a massacre. According to one Indian eyewitness, the clash lasted no longer than the time it took “for a hungry man to eat his meal.”

The army, commanded by Lieutenant Colonel George Armstrong Custer, was outnumbered and outgunned by Sitting Bull’s warriors. Their defeat was cruel and complete. They never stood a chance.

 

According to legend, at some point leading up to or during the skirmish, Sitting Bull issued some kind of warning. “One day,” proclaimed the great chief, “your people will outnumber my people. But that day is not today.”

The New Zealand team is a coming force in world cricket. They posses a relatively youthful team ably and assertively led by an innovative and adventurous captain. They have their fair share of accomplished and aggressive batsmen, while their fast bowlers are capable of eliciting swing, seam movement and scorching pace. Their veteran spinner appears to be on his last legs, afflicted as he is by injuries that have laid him low for long periods. But there are younger men coming up who should be able to provide good service to their country in that area. They also have an energetic fielding side and a bench stocked with reserves that should be adequate replacements, who will threaten to challenge the incumbents for places of their own in the near future.

In 2014, New Zealand had their best year ever. They won five of nine tests, nine of 16 One Day Internationals, and four of the six matches they played in cricket’s briefest format. Much was therefore expected of the co-hosts as cricket’s most prestigious tournament approached. By getting to the finals they satisfied those expectations. There were some bumps on the road to the Melbourne Cricket Ground for the championship game, but they managed to hurdle them every time.

Sri Lanka was dispatched easily enough in the 1st match. There was an early scare from Scotland, brought about by reckless batting. Of the seven wickets that New Zealand lost chasing 142, maybe only one was not needlessly gifted to the Scots.

England, far from testing, was bowled out for a paltry 123, which the hosts overhauled without sweat. The first round encounter with co-hosts Australia in Auckland was a low scoring though thrilling affair. After dismissing Australia for 151, New Zealand only just managed to withstand a stinging pace bowling barrage by Mitchell Starc to make it home by a single wicket.

After sailing past Afghanistan, New Zealand ran into some trouble when they played Bangladesh, achieving a hard-fought victory by three wickets with only seven deliveries to spare.

The West Indies were no trouble in the quarterfinals, but the semi-final game against South Africa was a heart-stopper. Affected by rain, South Africa’s 281/5 off 43 overs translated to a run-chase of 298, courtesy of the Duckworth-Lewis calculations. In the end, Grant Elliott’s heroics saw them through with a ball to spare, but it could have gone either way, and South Africa will rue a number of missed opportunities in the last instances of the game for quite some time to come.

And so Brendon McCullum’s men arrived at the finals, tested but unbeaten. They came with sizeable support, as it seemed that every cricket fan outside of Australia placed themselves on the side of the first-time finalists.

Crucially, the New Zealanders seemed equipped with enough weapons to inflict serious damage on their highly vaunted opponents. Trent Boult was battling with Mitchell Starc for the top spot on the tournament’s leading wicket-taker list. Alongside Tim Southee he formed a new-ball pair that proved most disruptive during the tournament. Daniel Vettori was among the World Cup’s most economical bowlers and captured his fair share of wickets as well, while Corey Anderson, the pacy Adam Milne, and his replacement when he fell injured, Matt Henry, provided adequate support.

New Zealand’s batting was doing a little better than ok too. Starting off the innings, McCullum was not unwilling to put all comers to the sword, often getting his side off to lightning starts. Martin Guptill was the top run-scorer for the tournament and his hefty 237 not out, the cup’s highest individual score, completely overwhelmed the West Indies in their quarterfinal meeting. If those two were the mainstays, all the others joined in from time to time, with Grant Elliott being especially impressive.

All things considered, the final was expected to be a grand, close-run affair. The Australians were the favourites, yet expectations were that the New Zealanders would battle their confident neighbours to the last.

On Sunday March 29th, the day they wrestled for cricket’s World Cup, however, their opponents showed that the Kiwis still have some way yet to go. Defeated by seven wickets with more than 16 overs to spare, the contest was never close.

From the first over to the last, the Australians showed themselves to be the superior team. From the fifth ball of the first over, when the fiery Starc disturbed McCullum’s off-stump with a full, fast, swinging delivery, to the first ball of New Zealand’s 34th over that Steven Smith pulled for four to seal the win: the home team were on top. The bruising, close encounter that was hoped for and expected never materialized.

Brendon McCullum and his men were clearly outclassed. Still, there is no disputing the gains they have recently made as a team. Perhaps, in the words of Sitting Bull, one day they will be good enough to overpower Australia. Sadly for their many supporters, that day was not the day of the 2015 World Cup finals.



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