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A New Zealand campaign that was a little 2015 and a little 2019

They fell short despite their moments of courage and joy

Alagappan Muthu
Alagappan Muthu
Brendon McCullum said 2015 was the time of their lives. They were hosts of the greatest spectacle that cricket had to offer, and they played with the kind of energy and freedom that infected the entire country. The New Zealand BlackCaps stood not as a team but as an ideal.
They chased every ball to the boundary often at the risk of bodily harm. They never gave up. They also tried hitting every ball to the boundary. They had no fear. They had people taking seven wickets and scoring ODI double-centuries. They had no limits.
2019 was about chaos and courage. 2015 was just pure joy. 2023 was a little of the first and a little of the second.
New Zealand came to India with their captain still recovering from an ACL injury he'd picked up just six months ago. Those normally take the better part of a year to heal. A first-choice fast bowler's hamstring went kaput leading to a situation where they were playing a World Cup match with only 11 fit men and if any of them had gone off the field for any reason - even a comfort break - one of the coaches might have had to take their place. Gary Stead is 51. Luke Ronchi is 42. Shane Jurgensen is 47. Mercifully that didn't happen, but still.
Daryl Mitchell walked into a semi-final where his team needed 398 to win, and all of a sudden the ball had started doing things. The Wankhede has been rather inhospitable to batters in this tournament once the sun goes down. There probably are worse conditions to bat in: the inside of a blue whale, for example, or on top of a meteor which is on fire. Mitchell only had to deal with swing, seam and turn as he made 134 off 119 balls. He thrived in this adversity. He knew he couldn't hold back. He had to fight.
Rachin Ravindra spent half his time in India scoring as many runs as any New Zealander has in a World Cup, and the rest of it fanboying. He couldn't believe he was in the same place as Virat Kohli and Joe Root and Kane Williamson and Sachin Tendulkar and Sunil Gavaskar. Everybody else could though. Just from the sound of the ball careening off his bat. New Zealand have found a 10-year all-format top-order batter who can also provide a bit of left-arm spin when needed. And they weren't even looking.
Pure joy.
It is on the back of Ravindra and Mitchell in particular that New Zealand produced a batting performance the likes of which has rarely been seen. Their strike rate as a team in this World Cup is 103.24. Only Australia and South Africa in 2015 - when the gruesome batting powerplay was still in operation - and India - by a fraction - in 2023 have ever scored quicker in the history of this competition. Even McCullum's boys having the time of their lives managed a mere 100.69. New Zealand's batting average hit a personal best (41.09) as well following this year's event.
This is not to say the campaign was without flaws. There were glaring ones. They fielded poorly, dropped 18 catches of varying difficulty. Five of them came against Australia when they put up 388, and four against South Africa who beat them by 190 runs. Those are losses that could've been mitigated not least because one of those games went all the way to the last ball. Travis Head, who made a 59-ball century, could've been stopped on 70 and 76. Quinton de Kock and Rassie van der Dussen, who also raised three-figures, could've been stopped on 13, 68 and 73. Almost all five of these chances were tough - James Neesham needed treatment to his fingers as the ball practically took them off his hand, and Glenn Phillips was Superman-diving just to get in the vicinity of the shot - but this is a discipline that New Zealand teams over the years do not fall short in. This one did.
The bowling wasn't great either. Or at the very least, the plans haven't worked. Trent Boult, for instance, has drawn more false responses than Mohammed Shami. It isn't even close. 120 vs 78. But where the India quick has found 23 wickets off his good work, New Zealand's spearhead has about half that (14). Shami obviously has the experience of bowling on slower pitches, and his great strength is how he is always at the stumps or in the channel. But Boult has done that too. 472 times, in fact. More than any other fast bowler in this World Cup. New Zealand's attack hasn't suffered because they haven't been trying or even that they haven't been executing their skills properly. It's just that they aren't effective in the subcontinent. Their three worst bowling averages in World Cup cricket all correspond to the tournament taking place there.
Mitchell Santner was the one shining light, and he will carry that with him as he leans into the next chapter of his career, where a leadership role could be on the cards. He has already stepped in to captain the T20 side in the absence of Williamson. All in all, this World Cup, where they recorded a fifth straight semi-final appearance, has not been one without gains. But it did highlight that New Zealand's golden generation have done all they can and it is now time to lay the groundwork for a new one to take their place.

Alagappan Muthu is a sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo