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Despite their excellent record in world tournaments, New Zealand lack an edge to their cricket
October 1, 2012
Less than a fortnight after receiving their Spirit Of Cricket Award, New Zealand already seem to have done enough to win another. When a debutant bowler was hit in the face, Brendon McCullum and Rob Nicol - never mind his Italian mob guy looks - didn't for a moment think of running off the ricochet, instead showing concern for Akila Dananjaya. It becomes all the more significant when you look at the result: a tied Super Eights match against Sri Lanka, after which the Super Over - not quite as preposterous as the bowl-out, yet not quite cricket - denied them the points.
It is tempting to think how many other batsmen would have reacted in a similar manner in a format where hitting and running like hell is just the thing to do. Forget the spirit of cricket, though. New Zealand have won hearts over the years with their show at world events: their seven semi-finals in 14 World Cups across formats is second only to Australia's semi-final record.
They haven't gone past any of those semi-finals, though. So they are a general nice team that try hard, reach the last four, but mean no offence. They were not even behind the change of water suppliers at this World Twenty20, although their players suffered the most gastric problems. It is endearing all right for neutral supporters, but their fans and players have to be sick of these frustrating misses.
They might be massive overachievers to some, but on days like the last day of matches in their Super Eights group, you wonder if there are bigger underachievers around. They had no business losing, and they had only themselves to blame. Despite stomach bugs, sore Achilles, a key player's personal issues keeping him out and botched batting orders, on pitches increasingly helping spinners, they still came to within scoring 140 in 20 overs with 10 wickets in hand of giving themselves a fair chance of making it to their eighth World Cup semi-final.
Yet, with no obvious pressure of extraordinary bowling - not until Sunil Narine bowled the 17th and 19th overs for just five runs - their batsmen bottled it. They were up against three specialists bowlers, and Darren Sammy and other bits-and-pieces men, but no one other than Ross Taylor and Brendon McCullum could score at more than a run a ball.
Taylor, the lone man on the burning deck, who almost single-handedly tied the game, and changed his gameplan on the spot to counter Marlon Samuels' 125kmph darts from two steps, was too gutted to talk about what happened. "We gave it our best. At times we didn't execute as we would have liked. We lost key moments in the game against Sri Lanka and again here today," was all he could say.
Ask him of the luck involved in the Super Over, and Taylor goes, "No, I think execution comes into it," Taylor said. "There's a bit of luck that goes into everything you do, but there's a lot of training and thought that goes into all aspects of the game. It just wasn't our day."
Niceness again. You want some badness from New Zealand at such times. You want them to complain of the seven runs that Steve Finn's kicking of stumps cost them. You want them to complain about the absurdity of a Super Over in non-knockout games. They just stay nice, racking up spirit-of-cricket points.
There is no empirical study that will tell you niceness equals lack of ruthlessness, or if New Zealand have not found themselves out of their depth in some of these semi-finals, but for once you want them to be dragged out of a World Cup. Kicking and screaming.
Sidharth Monga is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfoFeeds: Sidharth Monga
© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.
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