Australia v New Zealand, ICC Champions Trophy, final, Centurion October 6, 2009

New Zealand lack last-burst player

The side's only hope lay in a burst of genius but that goes against the very ethos of modern New Zealand sides

After a while you have to wonder about New Zealand. They have been immense getting to this final, spirited and resolute. But a brief spell with the ball apart, for about 20 overs, they didn't look like they were going to go further. They fought and made sure Australia had to break sweat, which is an achievement also because this was an Australia really in the mood. But the deed always seemed done and the ceiling not in danger of being broken.

So the gods have not been kind to New Zealand in this tournament and the highest cruelty was reserved for the final, with Daniel Vettori's late withdrawal. Having been up against it right through, this was the one blow from which they really couldn't be expected to recover. The only hope then lay in a burst of genius from somewhere, some individual, most likely Brendon McCullum, but maybe even Ross Taylor. It goes against the very ethos of modern New Zealand sides but it is what was needed and it never came.

They will and should be proud of what they have achieved here, especially with the circumstances in which they did it. But somewhere alongside, there might also be creeping in this feeling about just when and how and if they will break through that final barrier. The bottom line, harsh as it is, concerns itself only with winning big tournaments and New Zealand have won just one. They had then, in Chris Cairns, precisely the kind of individual who could and did change the course of matches and make a contribution greater than that made by the rest of their parts. Theirs is famously a small pool of talent and their history has been about squeezing out of that just about as much as they can. Occasionally they unearth a diamond and hopes brighten. But when they don't have that kind of player, how to go further, past that last obstacle? Is it even possible with what they have? The dilemma isn't easily resolved.

At moments tonight when they were batting, they looked hopelessly limited against this Australian attack. Typically they hung on, for few New Zealand sides will surrender abruptly, to make a total they could at least think about defending. Shane Bond and Kyle Mills went about the task with mighty hearts and no little skill. Their opening bursts were the most captivating moments of the match. Each ball carried the threat of wickets. In particular Bond was a sight, a reminder of what a special bowler he is.

Injuries and the ICL have taken away from him the aura of old. But he has had a good tournament, slowly working his way back and up to something resembling what he once was. In his first spell he was the famous Bond of 2002, the one who humbled great Australian sides often enough. The lengths he bowled, the pace, and the movement in and out; a solitary wicket was unjust reward.

But once he and Mills were done, New Zealand were again struggling, searching, striving for anything to put them on something remotely resembling an even keel. Ian Butler and James Franklin did all they could, and they bowled well in patches, but they never looked like changing the game. The last hope was the sky-high, top-edged pull off Cameron White, only to be dropped by McCullum. It wasn't simple but it was absolutely vital. A buzz of boundaries came immediately after - as so often seems to be the case when an Australian gets a life - the pressure was released and that was that.

More fancied teams have lost to Australia in big finals so there is no shame in this. But there isn't much joy in it either. That kind of sums up New Zealand not only in this final, another ICC final cursed to eventually be a dud, but beyond that, until and if they ever break through.

Osman Samiuddin is Pakistan editor of Cricinfo

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