Lucky number seven for Kiwis

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Last laugh Grant Elliott of New Zealand after scoring the winning runs against South Africa
Last laugh Grant Elliott of New Zealand after scoring the winning runs against South Africa

New Zealand have finally broken the jinx. Their victory against South Africa has ensured a maiden berth for them in a World Cup final. Much like South Africa, the chokers’ tag has haunted the Kiwis, too. However, New Zealand have never been ridiculed like the Proteas. Call it a bias or ignorance, the Black Caps have also been a part of six World Cup semifinals but faltered every time. Now, having crossed the barrier of the semifinal will they win their first title? One will find out this Sunday.

The Kiwis have truly emerged as a dark horse in the World Cup 2015. Nobody in their wildest imagination would have thought of the Black Caps for the final at the MCG. Their domination in the tournament is quite similar to the one in 1992. At that time, the Kiwis had a date with a resurgent Pakistan in the semifinal at Auckland, the same venue where they turned things around this year. New Zealand were unstoppable then, too, winning most of the matches under the spirited leadership of Martin Crowe. The Kiwis employed some unique strategies to outfox the opposition. For example, opening the bowling with a spinner Dipak Patel, which worked wonders as the opposition could not adjust to the combination of a pacer and a tweaker bowling in tandem. Then they explored the magic of the first 15 overs. It was an era prior to the powerplay and flexible field restrictions. Fielding restrictions were limited to the first 15 overs, so batsmen had the advantage of having only two fielders outside the circle. It was Mark Greatbatch who redefined batting in one-day cricket with some belligerent pinch hitting and helped his team post big scores in the 1992 edition. And the Kiwis were on a roll.

However, as they say, all good things come to an end; for New Zealand, their dreams came crashing to the ground during the semifinal at Eden Park. Batting first, the Kiwis made a challenging 260 runs against Pakistan. They were well on course for a victory with Pakistan struggling at 140 for 4 by the end of the 35th over. But they ran into a burly, but a rookie, Inzamam-ul-Haq. Then the rest, as they say, is history, with Pakistan finding a new hero and New Zealand a villain in Inzamam. Inzi’s 60 runs off 33 balls took the wind out of the Kiwis’ campaign and their fairy tale ended in a sublime tragedy. Once again for them, it was a classic case of so near yet so far. Everything was forgotten eventually when they crashed out. Whether it was the brute power of Greatbatch or the audacity of Crowe to bowl a spinner with the field restrictions on. But what can’t be denied is that it was New Zealand who showed how to capitalise in the first 15 overs when field restrictions are on. This is not the only instance of their failure; they have lost on five other occasions, too. In the 1975 edition, they lost to the then mighty West Indies in the semifinals. In 1979, they made it to the semis but lost to England. In 1999, they again lost to Pakistan followed by consecutive losses to Sri Lanka in the 2007 and the 2011 editions.

Coming back to the present scenario, New Zealand have had a dream journey in the World Cup 2015. They have won all the matches they have played so far. However, even the Kiwis are wary of the fact that the past would be of no relevance if they fail in their last encounter. But their performance has surprised many as nobody thought they could go beyond the pool stage. The credit for it goes to the captain Brendon McCullum, who has led from the front and marshalled his resources very well. Unarguably one of the most destructive batsmen in world cricket today, McCullum has in the 2015 edition amassed 328 runs from eight games at an astonishing strike rate of 191.81.

For the Black Caps, it has not been McCullum all the way as everyone in the playing XI has done his bit. This is a very good prospect for them as they are not depending on any one player to win matches. Martin Guptill has emerged as an unlikely hero for them. Guptill came into the tournament with a string of disappointing scores, including two golden ducks against Sri Lanka, but he has progressively played his way into form. His 237 against the Windies came off 163 balls and it had brilliance written all over it. Unlike his skipper, Guptill hardly plays any unconventional shots. He simply followed the cricketing manual to post the highest score in a World Cup. Guptill’s form signals that he is peaking at the right time and he is not finished yet. He has to his credit 532 runs from eight matches at a strike rate of 108.79. Along with Kane Williamson and Corey Anderson, the New Zealand batting can give sleepless nights to the best in the business. As for the bowling, Tim Southee and Trent Boult have run through most of the opposition with good support from Daniel Vettori, Corey Anderson and Adam Milne. However, Milne’s injury has come as a dampener. The Kiwis would sorely miss the services of Milne but they still have enough ammunition to make the most in the final.

jaidev@tehelka.com

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