Stephen Fleming, the New Zealand captain, has admitted that they were below par in all aspects of their game in the Commonwealth Bank Series. In a tournament in which Australia were far and away the best team, New Zealand were at least expected to sneak into the finals, but a resurgent England bounced them out of the tournament with a 14-run victory in the last league match, at Brisbane on Tuesday.
"If you look at all our games in the tournament we've been just a few percent off the money at crucial times," Fleming was quoted as saying by New Zealand Herald. "No one particular area, I think it was across the board."
New Zealand lost a couple of close matches to England and Australia early in the tournament, but seemed to be on course for a berth in the finals after beating England in their next two encounters. England, though, recovered with two wins in their last two matches, while New Zealand lost both the games in their last leg.
"We should have won this game in a canter, two or three down," Fleming said, looking back at their last defeat. "It's maybe mental to start with but physically as well, with the ball we're not quite nailing it and bowling one four ball an over; with the batting getting close to having a winning partnership then a run-out of a mis-hit, and England are back in the game. It's not much to turn but we've got to get it turned pretty quick."
New Zealand's batsmen, bowlers and fielders all had their moments in the tournament, but rarely did they all perform in the same match: in their first four games, the team totaled 184, 205, 218 and 210, and were occasionally bailed out by the bowlers. Then the batsmen found form - the totals rose to 335, 318, 290 and 256 in the last four matches - but the bowlers found it far more difficult to contain the opposition. "The wickets got a bit better and we had to ask a little bit more of our bowlers," Fleming conceded. "We're not quite there, just as the batting wasn't quite up to scratch at the start."
The batting revival was mainly due to the performances of Jacob Oram and Lou Vincent - Oram comfortably topped the averages for New Zealand and struck a hundred and two half-centuries from five innings, while Vincent averaged more than 65 - but the rest of the cast was disappointing. Despite his century in the last match, Fleming only managed an aggregate of 231, while Nathan Astle scored 46 in four ODIs before announcing his retirement. The bowling was patchy as well, in spite of some inspired spells by Shane Bond and Daniel Vettori.
Even more shocking, though, was New Zealand's display in the field. Normally known for their outstanding fielding and catching, they were a shambles through most of the tournament, with plenty of dropped catches in the outfield. Three chances were spilled in the crucial last match against England, but Fleming chose to defend the fielding coach, Travis Wilson. "Travis hasn't had a lot to do with our fielding patterns, more one-on-one stuff. It's more attention to detail from our players."
New Zealand only have three more matches, against Australia in the Chappell-Hadlee Series, to find some form and confidence before the World Cup. Given their recent track record against that opposition - 19 defeats in the last 21 ODIs - it's unlikely they'll be going into these matches with too many expectations.