T20 World Cup: New Zealand are the side to beat in the final

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The New Zealand team have given the sport a boost in their country. — ANI
The New Zealand team have given the sport a boost in their country. — ANI

Mumbai - Just about a decade back, they looked perennial also-rans, reaching the semifinals of most ODI World Cups, but not beyond

By Ayaz Memon

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Published: Thu 11 Nov 2021, 10:28 PM

England were favourites to win the first semifinal, but should we be so surprised that New Zealand won it instead?

Examine the trajectory of New Zealand cricket over the past three-four years and Wednesday’s match ceases to be an ‘upset.’ True, England had beaten the Kiwis in the epic 2019 ODI World Cup final, but only just. In the eyes of many, New Zealand were deprived of the title because of terrible ill-luck and a boo-boo in the playing conditions that has since been rectified.

There’s no taking away that England have become a fantastic white-ball side under Eoin Morgan and it was hardly their fault that the dice rolled in their favour in the 2019 ODI World Cup final. Apart from that stroke of fortune — and an asinine rule that could easily have benefited the other side — they had shown their prowess quite brilliantly.

However, New Zealand, after being so unfortunately thwarted in the bid for winning that title, has since been on an extraordinary surge. Narrowly missing the ODI World Cup title, Kane Williamson’s team didn’t spend time in moaning and groaning at what might have been. Instead, they got down to the business of becoming the best in the sport.

Winning the inaugural World Test Championship — beating top-ranked India in the final — was a massive achievement. Of course, they had some luck in that Australia, who looked headed into the final, declined to tour South Africa because of the pandemic which cost them valuable points. But New Zealand were to add great merit to luck.

Pakistan and West Indies were thrashed at home, then the team flew to England, conquering Joe Root’s team in a brief series before the final against India. In this all-important match, the Kiwis upstaged the favourites in a marvelous see-saw match that put players of both teams to severe scrutiny of skill and temperament.

A few months later, New Zealand are in the final of the T20 World Cup, highlighting how much their range of expertise has expanded, and how their ambition has grown. Just about a decade back, they looked perennial also-rans, reaching the semifinals of most ODI World Cups, but not beyond, and being stragglers in the other formats, except when playing in home conditions.

In the 2015 ODI World Cup, New Zealand, now known as the Black Caps, reached the final which was a major inflection point though they lost to Australia. How New Zealand have turned things around in cricket since — perhaps the fifth or sixth most popular sport in the country though the exploits of the past few years must have given it a terrific boost — makes for one of the more dramatic stories in sport.

Factors that have led to this surge would take up a voluminous book. I’ll try and communicate this in a few adjectives: Ambition, high skills, resilience, tenacity, discipline, humility, commitment, pride, strong leadership. There are more attributes, but these should suffice to tell how New Zealand have become a major force in cricket, in fact the best in the sport currently.

The semifinal highlighted all of these. True, England missed a couple of key players in Tymal Mills and Jason Roy, and Morgan’s luck with the toss failed him. But for most of the match, it was the Kiwis who were under the pump, first when bowling, and even more so when batting.

England had made a very competitive 166. In fact, it appeared they would win by a wide margin when Martin Guptill and Williamson, the two best batters in the line-up, failed. With Daryl Mitchell and Devon Conway struggling to get the ball off the square, it looked all over for the Kiwis.

But they hadn’t given up. The two put up a partnership which just about kept the side alive till the slog overs. With 57 to get in four overs, it still looked like England’s match. Then Jimmy Neesham played a bionic cameo, making 27 off 11 deliveries, which inspired Mitchell to break his shackles. He too joined in the six-hitting spree which got them to the target with an over to spare.

It had been a fantastic turnaround performance by a set of players who refuse to surrender even under the most daunting pressure. New Zealand are the side to beat in the final.

Ayaz Memon is an Indian sports writer and commentator

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