Australia v New Zealand, final, Melbourne March 29, 2015

New Zealand aggression goes missing

Throughout the tournament, they have captured the imagination of the world with an attacking style of cricket. But against an in-form Australia in the final, they were found wanting for a lack of plan B
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Chappell: It went horribly wrong for NZ at the start

Whether setting a five-slip cordon or smashing an 18-ball fifty, Brendon McCullum has flown through this World Cup at breakneck speed. Almost literally, in the case of his reckless diving attempt to prevent a boundary against Bangladesh. The aggressive style has swept the nation up along the way, and raised hopes of beating Australia at their own approach in the final.

That is why Sunday's defeat was a letdown. That New Zealand lost in front of a record cricket crowd of 93,013 at the MCG was maybe not surprising. That they did so by scoring just over four an over, by reducing the cordon to one slip in the fifth over of Australia's chase, when David Warner's edge flew safely to where a second would have been - these were the disappointments.

After ten overs of New Zealand's innings, they had scored 31 for 1, the slowest New Zealand run since Mark Richardson raced Darren Lehmann in a beige bodysuit. It was less than half of the 77 that has been New Zealand's average ten-over score throughout the whole tournament. At one point, they crawled along for 57 balls without a boundary, and they struggled to 66 for 3 after 20 overs.

On the eve of this World Cup final, McCullum was asked about New Zealand's incessant attacking approach. Is there such a thing as too much aggression, someone enquired of him.

"I don't think so," McCullum replied. "For us, we need to play like that, that's how we're going to beat teams on regular occasions. We're not afraid of losing. For us we think about what we can achieve. That's not always going to work and there are going to be times when we come out on the wrong side of it. But that gives us our greatest chance of success against big opposition teams on a regular basis."

You have to wonder, therefore, if New Zealand really gave themselves their greatest chance of lifting the World Cup. To some degree, Australia just didn't let New Zealand play that way. Mitchell Starc's swing up front required serious negotiation. At no stage in this tournament had New Zealand batted first against an in-form attack.

Only twice had they set a target, against an insipid West Indies who served up half-volleys that allowed Martin Guptill to reach a double-century, and in the tournament opener against Sri Lanka, when Lasith Malinga and Nuwan Kulasekara struggled to find their rhythm, and catches were put down that helped New Zealand's cause greatly.

In some ways, New Zealand would have been better off losing the toss. They have chased so well through this campaign and seem to prefer knowing their goal from the outset. McCullum had to bat first when he called correctly, had to back his men to set the game up from the front. It was at once the right call and the wrong result.

When it mattered most, New Zealand were left in the shade © Ryan Pierse/Getty Images

The loss of McCullum himself in the first over of the match was pivotal. In every innings so far in this World Cup, McCullum has scored at better than a run a ball, even if he only stayed out there a couple of overs he got the innings away quickly. Here, Starc's inswing prevented McCullum so much as laying bat on ball from his three deliveries, and he was bowled for a duck.

Without their talisman at least getting a couple of boundaries away, New Zealand seemed lost in a limbo between attack and consolidation. The tentativeness that has been conspicuously absent from their play crept in. Wickets were lost to wishy-washy shots, Guptill's missed prod at Glenn Maxwell, Kane Williamson's checked shot that sent a return catch to Mitchell Johnson.

Australia's sharp work in the field gave them no leeway. Nothing was misfielded, no catches were dropped, no easy singles conceded. Grant Elliott and Ross Taylor recovered somewhat, Elliott especially taking a leaf out of the Australian batting manual, moving the score along at a run a ball without looking like it.

Taylor never seemed quite in, though, and when he was out, New Zealand collapsed. Elliott had delivered New Zealand into this final with an unbeaten 84 in the chase against South Africa; here his 83 from 82 balls was not enough in setting up a target that would challenge Australia.

Defending 183, everything had to go right for New Zealand, they had to give themselves every possible chance of bowling Australia out. Four slips for Trent Boult to Warner was a good start. But by the fifth over, McCullum had uncharacteristically slashed the cordon to one, and Warner's edge off Tim Southee flew agonisingly wide of a diving Taylor, the sole slip.

On Friday night, McCullum enjoyed a night of horse-racing at Moonee Valley. He is a man who doesn't mind employing the occasional racing metaphor. His team had to set the pace here. Had they gone out hard and run out of energy, so be it. That has been the New Zealand way. Instead, they sat one out and one back, waiting for the Australians to flag. They never did.

Australia were too strong in too many areas. New Zealand can be proud to have reached their first World Cup final. But they will fly home wondering what might have been, and what they might have done differently.

Brydon Coverdale is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. @brydoncoverdale

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Dummy4 on April 1, 2015, 7:13 GMT

    Look at the dismissals, no Kiwi batters were caught in the outfield, Australia gave next to nil to hit in the first 10 overs. Only one person got caught out swinging for the fence and not being able to reach the boundary and that was David Warner. In fact NZ hit 3 sixes, and Australia only hit one in their innings. McCullum's plan is to go for it in the first few overs, and if he fails NZ are prepared for that. Australia bowled extremely well, and fielded like demons, but NZ worked their way to to 150-3 off 35 overs which I am sure either team would have taken at the start. Then Taylor got out to a ball from Faulkner that clearly missed it's mark way wide, Taylor was unlucky for a ball that slow to carry to the keeper. Then Australia exploited that brilliantly, and finished off the innings, Faulkner's perfect inswinging yorker to Corey Anderson made a decent score virtually impossible.

  • Dummy4 on April 1, 2015, 7:03 GMT

    What a load of rubbish, NZ can only play on their own grounds ?!? Only one single team has made the semi-finals of the last 3 world cups, in 3 different parts of the World. And that team is NZ. If you want to say NZ can't play anywhere but on there home on the evidence of the tournament, then the same applies to Australia, as they too only played one game away from home, and they lost that one.

  • henry on March 31, 2015, 21:51 GMT

    Look if you really strip it back, NZ were lucky to make the final. Only saved by the rain at Eden Park. Sure you could call it attacking but the way one or two played was also high risk. Huge pressure on those following to steady the ship on a number of occasions. Over hyped if you ask me. The NZ bowlers were fantastic, especially Boult. Openers open and they have a job to do. You cant expect to win a final if one of your openers on average only faced 19 balls...sure strike rate is good but chasing is not the same as building a total to defend. The final exposed him big time...as a batsman and as a captain under pressure. The pressure also showed against Bangladesh. I wonder if the decision for NZ to bat first was because Vettori blew his calf before the final started . The question is," why did he play if he was injured."

  • amakan on March 31, 2015, 17:28 GMT

    Nothing to do with big grounds, all kiwi batsman got out inside the 30Y circle. Australia as I had predicted would win comprehensively.

  • Harsh on March 31, 2015, 8:10 GMT

    The most crucial factor was it's unfamiliarity with Australian conditions.The Kiwis should atleast have had 3-4 games in Australia.T he bounce and conditions were Australian tracks were at variance with those of New Zealand..At home the kiwis may have won the title but overall at the end of the tournament I place Australia on the top of the pedestal with both the Proteas and India marginally ahead of New Zealand.True the Kiwis were the most consistent and best performing team but on paper South Africa and India had the marginal edge over them.Anyway I congargulate New Zealand for making their 1st final and being the best performing team till the final.

  • Juzer on March 31, 2015, 7:02 GMT

    well writ article which i fully endorse. i feel McCullum's wicket blew the air out of NZ challenge and the negative mind set took place. McCullum needed to be careful especially after the first ball which he missed, lost the golden opportunity to be World Champs. NZ will be the team to support the next time around.

  • Dummy on March 30, 2015, 23:09 GMT

    Brendon Mculam became Misbah and lost the match.

  • Faan on March 30, 2015, 20:35 GMT

    Aus were definitely the best team on the day. What a pity the world had to watch Haddin, Faulkner, Johnson shout abuse at batsmen when they got out. The lasting impression of the ODI world champs.

  • Ralf on March 30, 2015, 17:27 GMT

    Australian team was struggling before the series against India Credit to India for boosting their confidence and making Steven Smith who he is today.

  • Dummy4 on March 30, 2015, 16:23 GMT

    Every day was not Sunday McCullum you under estimated the potential of the Australian team and lost the match. It was resounding victory for Australia they bowled well , fielded well and bated well .On top of that they played like team and each one of them knowing his role very well and sent New Zealand packing without looking back. and Australia reconfirmed that New Zealand were tigers only in their home grounds elsewhere they are to lambs to slaughter

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