Last month, Australia beat New Zealand to win the 2015 Cricket World Cup Final. In the end, they beat them comprehensively. New Zealand were outplayed with the bat, with the ball, and in the field. In hindsight, it was not a surprising result. As much as I had hoped as a New Zealander that we could win, and as much as the Black Caps had shown themselves capable of winning on the biggest stage throughout the tournament, the final of a world cup proved too big a bridge too far for them to cross.
New Zealand appeared, to a degree, to be overwhelmed by the occasion. Whether it was the unfamiliarity of competing in a final, the attention and scrutiny of the world's media, the hostile crowd, or the unimaginably long boundaries of the MCG, the Black Caps saved their worst performance of the tournament till last.
But to reduce New Zealand's tournament simply to that of a runner failing at the last hurdle, would fail to recognise the effort taken just to get there in the first place.
January 2 2013. One of the lowest points in the history of New Zealand cricket. In the 1st Test against South Africa in Cape Town, New Zealand were bowled out for 45 runs in the 20th over (a game which they went on to comprehensively lose). It was the shortest Test innings of all time, and New Zealand's worst score since 1946.
As a one-off performance it would have been understandable perhaps, merely an aberration in an otherwise respectable record. However, in the context of New Zealand cricket at the time, their performance unfortunately was indicative of the quality of the team, and did not even come as that much of a surprise to many people. From the beginning of 2011 through to the end of 2014, New Zealand was firmly ensconced at the bottom of the cricketing world's ladder. Their ICC Test ranking stayed consistently at no. 8, ahead only of Bangladesh. In ODIs, they fluctuated between 7th and 8th, in a three way battle between Bangladesh and the West Indies to avoid the wooden spoon.
Just a month before the Cape Town Test, the New Zealand Herald had written a special feature on the state of New Zealand Cricket, titled "The Shame Game". It did not make for pretty reading to a New Zealand cricket fan. As well as cataloguing the failures of the national team's on-field performance, it also presented a bleak picture in other areas of the sport. Not only was New Zealand Cricket losing on the field, they were losing off the field as well.
The poor performance of the national side was driving down crowd numbers at international fixtures, and viewers on television as well. Incidents off the field were exacerbating the problem. Accusations of entitled, egotistical players, administrative blunders, and even match-fixing scandals (although not linked to current international players), all conspired to bring down the reputation of New Zealand Cricket in the eyes of the public and the media.
Fast forward to 2015 however, and the state of the game is in a much healthier position. The success of New Zealand at the World Cup has not come out of nowhere, but rather has been the culmination of a lot of hard work over the last two years, led by coach Mike Hesson and captain Brendon McCullum. Since Cape Town, McCullum has led New Zealand to Test series victories over the West Indies, India, Pakistan and Sri Lanka. The Black Cap's ICC rankings have also lifted since then, from 8th to 5th in Test Matches and from 7th to 4th in ODIs.
New Zealand's performance at the World Cup has been indicative of the change in mindset that has taken place over the last two years. Led from the front and exemplified by their skipper Brendon McCullum, the Black Caps have throughout the tournament sought to play a positive, aggressive style of cricket. In addition to this, New Zealand's performances have been characterised by their attitude of humility, sportsmanship and respect for the spirit of the game. With immense self-confidence and unconstrained by any perceivable fear of failure, they made it to the final unbeaten, and contributed towards some of the best moments and matches of the tournament.
Regardless of the final result, performances such as Tim Southee's demolition of the England batting line-up, Kane Williamson's nerveless six to beat Australia in pool play, Martin Guptill's 237* against the West Indies, and Grant Elliot's 84* to beat South Africa in the semi-final, will remain in the memory of cricket fans long after the World Cup is over.
New Zealand may not have won the World Cup, but arguably they have achieved a more important victory – winning back the respect and admiration of the New Zealand public.
Tim Newman lives in Christchurch, New Zealand. He holds an MA in History and is currently working as a ministry intern at Cornerstone Church.
Tim Newman's previous articles may be viewed at http://www.pressserviceinternational.org/tim-newman.html