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The year of New Zealand

They lost in the final, but up until then, McCullum's men defined the tournament

Fans welcome the New Zealand team home after the World Cup final, Queen's Wharf, Auckland, March 31, 2015

The fans wholeheartedly lapped up Brendon McCullum's mantra: "The best way is to go out and represent New Zealand with all you've got"  •  Getty Images

Kumar Sangakkara hit four consecutive hundreds, Wahab Riaz bowled a furious spell, AB de Villiers was a typhoon, Bangladesh ignited, and Australia won the trophy, but the World Cup's greatest memories, its very soul really, came from Brendon McCullum and his men.
Other teams had their moments, but it was New Zealand who turned the tournament's air electric every time they took the field. McCullum had first taken over the captaincy amid acrimony, at a time when New Zealand's public could hardly have been more out of love with their side, but over the course of two years he had turned it emphatically around. Victories had helped, as had a fresh and unyielding commitment to respect and humility. But it was the manic energy McCullum injected into his team that shook that whole tournament alive.
There he was, sprinting full pelt toward the boundary rope, going off his feet to make a stop, tumbling over the rope like a bowling ball, sometimes clattering into the boundary hoardings. Or there he ran, right at the bowler, almost before the ball had left the hand, to bosh him imperiously over cover less than 24 hours after he had spoken at length about how good he thought the opposition attack was. And how much, of course, his team would respect them.
It was all a bit of a show. It felt like a show. And McCullum basically admitted as much. Soon after he whisked the captaincy out from under Taylor, his team were still losing, and through the course of several meetings it was decided that whatever the on-field results were going to be, the team was going to throw themselves unabashedly at their public. "We knew we had to make changes - for the public who cared about this team," he had said. "It was essential to all of us that we have the public's support. The best way to get that is to go out and represent New Zealand with all you've got."
At the World Cup, it wasn't just New Zealanders that McCullum and his team were winning over. Having already planted their flag on their own islands, they began to conquer foreign hearts. Sri Lanka had been thrashed around the length and breadth of the country previously in the summer, but when New Zealand crushed them again, in the tournament opener, and Sri Lanka subsequently bowed out of the tournament at the quarter-final stage, much of Sri Lanka's own public had come to an acceptance of New Zealand's dominance, and indeed an admiration. It was New Zealand that many Sri Lankans overwhelmingly backed through the knockouts stages; New Zealand's failure to lift the trophy that seemingly upset them more, ultimately, than Sri Lanka's own fate (which they had largely seen coming).
England would not only be even more humiliated by New Zealand - bowled out for 123 before conceding those runs in less than 13 overs - they would later go on to effectively plagiarise the McCullum brand of cricket. Years later it is McCullum's doctrine that has shaped the relentlessly aggressive England ODI team. McCullum's ideas that have penetrated even the England Test-match state of mind, leading to absurdities such as England Test match victories predicated on the repeated use of the reverse sweep.
It was also no surprise that the two best matches of the World Cup featured New Zealand (though perhaps more unexpected that these were both played at Eden Park, which is essentially a rugby venue that only barely passes off as a cricket ground).
The first was the kind of match that was completely antithetical to this particular World Cup. At an event that featured three team totals over 400 and four more over 350, here was a low-scoring thriller - Australia bowled out for 151 inside 33 overs; New Zealand seemingly hurtlng toward the target on the back of another rapid McCullum innings, before Mitchell Starc strikes brutally and repeatedly, uprooting six. In the end, only the profoundly calm Kane Williamson can settle the match, hitting a serene six into the sightscreen to haul his limping team over the line.
The next nail-biter at Eden Park would be even more memorable. South Africa, having won their first World Cup knockout ever to ease past Sri Lanka in the quarter-final, had begun strongly, setting New Zealand 298 in a rain-shortened 43-over match. South Africa are adamant that they didn't do that thing that they are reputed to do at global tournaments, so let us just venture that perhaps they "buckled under pressure" in the back end of that game. When Grant Elliott top-edged the final ball of the penultimate over, he should have been easily caught in the region of square leg. Only, two South Africa fielders - both of whom could have comfortably made the catch - collided to let Elliott continue. Next over, with five required off the last two, Dale Steyn made perhaps the most haunting decision of his professional life - to bowl hard back-of-a-length on one of the tiniest grounds on the planet. He was duly deposited into the stands beyond long-on, and the stadium broke out in ear-splitting euphoria.
Twenty-three years before, it had been at this very venue that New Zealand had crashed out of the World Cup, in a semi final.
Though incandescent at home, New Zealand were no match for Australia in the title match, of course. McCullum's three advancing swipes against Starc - the third of those leaving his stumps splayed - were a symbol of that contest. New Zealand were helplessly committed to attack; Australia were confident of their quality in home conditions. In the end, it was not even close. A seven-wicket win for the hosts at the MCG. There were more than 16 overs remaining.
And in truth, it was not a great World Cup. Reverse swing was conspicuous by its absence, two new balls having done away with that art. Many games - including those between Full Member nations - were one-sided, decided by whichever team made the better use of their first 15 overs with the ball. There were no strategic innovations that revolutionised the sport, few real surprises, and a shortage of on-field drama.
Which is why the tournament really needed New Zealand. Which is why their frenzied campaign stands out.

Andrew Fidel Fernando is ESPNcricinfo's Sri Lanka correspondent. @afidelf