New Zealand drown in duck nightmare
In the days and nights before a World Cup final, I imagine myriad thoughts go through a player's head. Waking dreams of individual and collective success; tense visions of single moments, crucial phases, or old rivalries renewed on the biggest stage; doubts, hopes, memories, ambitions, fears of failure. Perhaps they imagine themselves hitting the winnings runs, taking the final wicket, or hurtling thirty yards across the outfield to take a diving one-handed catch; or dropping a sitter on the boundary before making amends by kicking the ball as it bounces, striking it so sweetly that it follows an 80-yard trajectory directly onto the stumps to complete an unforgettable run out, before they hobble off to a standing ovation and a foot spa.
Some players will, perhaps, have imagined themselves making history. Some will also have pictured themselves, with rather less enthusiasm, getting out for nought, trudging off as the pitiless metaphorical quack of a duck reminds them of their total failure in a career-defining match.
For most, neither scenario transpires. For Brendon McCullum, both did.
World Cup final ducks are relatively rare. There were eight in the 1979 final (three by the victorious West Indians, five in about 15 minutes by England as Joel Garner yorked them senseless), but there had been only seven in the eight finals since then.
This year's final ¬- a disappointment for the neutral and the New Zealander, but a majestic display of near-flawless ODI cricket by an Australian team that threatens another prolonged era of domination - produced five ducks. Four of them by New Zealand, and one by Australia.
Duck One was the most important, the failure that shaped the final, a devastating start for both sides, in different ways. And a moment of history. Never before had a batsman been dismissed in the first over of a World Cup final. Or, from Mitchell Starc's point-of-view, never before had a bowler taken a wicket in the first over of a World Cup final. Not bowling greats such as Dennis Lillee in 1975, or Ian Botham in 1979, or Andy Roberts four years after that, or Glenn McGrath 1999. Nor even bowling not-quite-so-great Pramodya Wickramasinghe in 1996.
Once Brendon McCullum was on strike, cricket was treated to three balls of pitched-up pace perfection, the third of which thudded into his stumps at a velocity that has proved too much for most of the batsmen Starc has encountered recently. McCullum failed to score. His bat had been left untouched, a force of destruction rendered into a decorative ceremonial weapon by the tournament's most influential player. The highlight of the final happened after three minutes. Trying to attack from ball one against 90mph swinging stump-threatening fireballs was a high-risk gambit. The Kiwi skipper's infectious aggression with the bat has illuminated this World Cup. He could have been infectiously aggressive even after playing himself in for a few balls.
Duck Two was almost equally important. New Zealand recovered from their early troubles with a century stand by the fluent Grant Elliott and the rather less fluent Ross Taylor. When Taylor edged Faulkner behind, New Zealand were 150 for 4, the depth of their batting, which had aided them significantly at various points during the campaign, was about to put to the test. They could still reach 270, at least. Two balls later, Corey Anderson, who had had a high-impact tournament with bat and ball, with significant innings in four of New Zealand's victories, and the proven power to give his team a competitive score, was scuttled by a scurrying Faulkner delivery.
Anderson trudged off with body language that understandably and unmistakably screamed: "Please can I have another go at that, that was not supposed to happen." Anderson is only the fifth player to score more than 200 runs and take more than 10 wickets in the same World Cup. Two of the others (Yuvraj Singh in 2011 and Lance Klusener in 1999) have been named Man Of The Tournament, and one more (Kapil Dev in 1983) could well have been had the title existed then. But his duck was another nail in New Zealand's final coffin. Not the final nail, but any nails in coffins are generally a sign that Great Uncle Eric is probably not going to be springing back to his feet any time soon.
Duck Three confirmed that New Zealand would be restricted to an at-best moderate total. When growing up in Australia, making his way through the ranks of Australian cricket, and playing ODI and T20 cricket for Australia, Luke Ronchi may well have dreamed that, one day, a capacity crowd at the MCG would cheer him to the rafters as he helped the country of his upbringing to World Cup glory.
That dream came true. But not in the way he would have wanted. He was booed to the crease, nearly ran out Elliott with a foolish call for what looked like at best around 0.85 of a single, then edged his fourth ball to slip. The MCG cheered, Australia were nearer to World Cup glory, but Ronchi did not look like a man whose childhood dream had come to fruition.
Duck Four made little difference - Matt Henry is a capable hitter who hammered four sixes in his last first-class innings before being summoned to the World Cup squad, but was left in a situation where even a few connected thwacks would make little difference. In the end, he made no difference at all. He plinked a Johnson full toss to cover. Teams batting first in ODIs and scoring four ducks had a record of won six, lost 46. An almost hopeless situation had become slightly less hopeful.
Duck Five was exactly what New Zealand needed after Ducks One, Two, Three and Four. But, as it was not followed by Duck Six or Duck Seven, or even by a batsman being out for less than 45, it proved irrelevant. Nevertheless, it was a moment of statistical curiosity. This was Australia's seventh World Cup final. Aaron Finch, as he might have dreamed of doing, did something that none of his compatriots had ever done in those six previous finals - get out for nought. He was the 43rd Australian to bat in a World Cup final, and the first duck, achieved with one of the least convincing innings of 0 off five balls that you could wish to see.
I imagine Finch will reflect on this slice of history rather less than Brendon McCullum will on his. A World Cup final duck is easier to accept if you accessorise it with a winner's medal. Finch thus continued a proud tradition of opening batsmen scoring a century on the tournament's first day, and ending it with a duck in a victorious final, a custom launched by Virender Sehwag in 2011.
Eight New Zealand batsmen failed - only Elliott and Taylor scored more than 15 ¬- and, in practical terms, the difference between scoring nought and scoring, say, ten, is generally negligible. But there is something different about the complete failure of the duck, the total lack of tangible contribution, the fear of which chills all batsmen at any level. For a team whose strength is derived in large part from the depth of its batting to lose four players for a combined total of - hang on, let me just check this on my abacus - zero runs, in a World Cup final, against an opponent that had not lost on home soil for a very long time, was a mathematical and symbolic problem from which the Kiwis were highly unlikely to recover.
I watched the final from high (very high) up in the MCG stands. If you want to know what the atmosphere was like on such a grand occasion, in front of a record-breaking crowd of 93,000, most of whom were watching their country win a World Cup on home soil for the first time, then I am pleased to be able to report that, for the most part, the atmosphere was a truly unforgettable playlist of classic pop songs.
It was an excellent playlist, ranging from rock classics and melodious hits by Australian and New Zealand stars, to the famously cricket-influenced energy of hip-hop, and the unquenchable dance-inducing groove of contemporary pop and dance anthems. Occasionally, a man would appear on the big screen to try to make everyone fall in love with a soft drink by shouting, or talk to a famous ex-cricketer for an unmissable eight-second insight into the workings of a World Cup final, but mostly the atmosphere rocked and popped along tunefully via a hugely impressive public address system, which achieved a rare combination of both clarity and volume.
Every now and again, the 93,000 people would make a very loud noise, such as when the visiting captain was dismantled in the first over of the match, or the winning runs were hit, or the trophy was lifted, but fortunately such outbreaks of unorchestrated crowdiness were shortlived, and the music was swiftly summoned to snuff out such unnecessarily spontaneous interventions. The audience who had paid their hard-earned roubles, lire, kopeks or dollars to listen to eight hours of musical gobbets could once again have their reactions and excitement dictated to them.
One can only imagine how awfully drab the massive, packed stadium of cricket fans would have sounded without the musical medley to guide them as to when something exciting had just happened, or when nothing at all was happening, or when something might be about to happen or not happen. Perhaps there would have been eight tedious hours of a crowd following, reacting to, and interacting with the sporting drama, with the hubbub of conversation, the peaks and lulls of an unfolding drama punctuated by explosions of delight and excitement. But most likely it would have eight hours of unremitting, library-level silence. We can count our lucky stars that sport today saves the paying customer from being forced to create its own atmosphere by the changeless, unthinking, automatic blasting of the god-given glory of music.
Andy Zaltzman is a stand-up comedian, a regular on BBC Radio 4, and a writer