Final hurdle: Black Caps fall short again

NZ Herald,
Publish Date
Mon, 15 Nov 2021, 7:14am

Final hurdle: Black Caps fall short again

NZ Herald,
Publish Date
Mon, 15 Nov 2021, 7:14am

This time, there can be no complaints. 

The Black Caps have fallen at the final hurdle at the Twenty20 World Cup, comprehensively defeated by Australia in the final, by eight wickets with seven balls to spare. 

Unlike in 2019's ODI World Cup final, there is nothing controversial to point to explain the defeat. No obscure rule, no moment where the game could have turned, no reason for New Zealand to feel aggrieved. 

Instead, there was a simple fact that all in the Kiwi camp had to acknowledge – Australia were simply better. Much better. 

Chasing a challenging 173 for victory under Dubai's night sky, Australia had few worries, with Mitch Marsh (77 not out off 50 balls) and David Warner (53 off 38) overcoming a Kane Williamson masterclass, with the Black Caps captain's 48-ball 85 giving his side a real chance of victory. 

It wasn't to be, and yet, once the pain subsides, the Black Caps can once again hold their heads high. 

Internally, there will be heartbreak – as Jimmy Neesham said after their semifinal win over England, you don't come to World Cups to win semifinals. 

But externally, few expected them to win that semifinal, and while 2021 will now be added to 2019 and 2015 in the annals of missed opportunities, even being in position to contest those titles is proof enough of a nation punching above its weight. 

That nation can still be proud today, while acknowledging where things went wrong. 

After a tournament where their bowlers shone, they came up well short on the biggest stage. 

While losing the toss and being forced to set a total didn't help, and the first 10 overs of their batting innings was arguably too slow and risk-averse, the Black Caps' bowling performance wasn't worthy of victory. Tim Southee (0-43) wasn't near his usual level, while Mitchell Santner was unthreatening and Ish Sodhi woeful, tonked for 40 off three wicketless overs. 

It was a reversal of earlier in the Cup, where the bowlers gave the batsmen easy targets to chase. This time, the batsmen stepped up – or at least one did. 

After a tournament where he had rarely left first gear – sometimes due to struggles, and sometimes by design in cruisy runchases – Williamson burst into overdrive, producing his finest T20 innings in his most important match. 

It contained a slow start, and a lucky break. One run came off his first seven balls, as part of a plodding powerplay which saw six overs finish with New Zealand at 32-1 – their lowest score of the tournament. 

After 32 balls without a boundary, Williamson upped the ante, slightly, with the Black Caps crawling to 57-1 at the halfway mark, and the skipper on a run-a-ball 21. 

Then, the tide turned. Williamson whacked a Mitchell Starc full toss in the air to Josh Hazlewood at fine leg – it went straight to him, and straight through his hands for four. 
Nineteen runs later, Starc's over was complete, and the thought had emerged – had Hazlewood dropped the World Cup? 

Williamson seemed driven to ensure he had. From 21 off 21 balls, he raced through to 50 off just 32, respecting Australia's strike bowlers but attacking their part-timers. 

One of Australia's strike bowlers removed Martin Guptill, whose lacklustre 28 off 35 balls ended on the midwicket rope via Adam Zampa, but Williamson was not to be denied. 
Starc was taking a hammering, with Williamson edging, clipping, walloping and guiding 22 runs off the 16th over, before gorgeously scooping Hazlewood over short fine leg for four. 

Hazlewood finally ended the onslaught, with Williamson unselfishly holing out, but 23 runs came off the last two overs, and 115 off the last 10 as the Black Caps posted 172-4. 

Game on then – and that feeling of parity intensified when Trent Boult removed Aaron Finch to leave Australia at 15-1 after three overs. 

Three balls later though, and Marsh had smacked Milne for 14 runs, in a sign of what was to come. 

Marsh and Warner dragged Australia to 43-1 at the end of the powerplay, and the Kiwi spinners failed to put the brakes on, with 39 runs coming from their first four overs to leave Australia with an advantageous equation – 91 needed from 10 overs, with nine wickets in hand. 

A desperate Neesham over leaked 15 as Warner brought up his 50 off 34 balls, and while the fantastic Boult came back to knock over his stumps, a wild over from Sodhi saw three wides, two boundaries and 16 runs conceded. 

Marsh had passed 50 in the process, and in the next over, pulled Milne in the air to square leg, where the ball died just short of Daryl Mitchell's outstretched fingertips. 

When the next two deliveries were bashed for four by Glenn Maxwell, it seemed New Zealand's hopes had died with it, and 13 came from Southee's 16th over to leave 24 runs required from 24 balls. 

From there, it was never in doubt, and when Maxwell reverse swept Southee for the winning runs, it confirmed a cruel truth. 

Hazlewood had not dropped the World Cup. 

It had slipped through New Zealand's fingers.