New Zealand aggression goes missing
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.
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