Some say that you need to lose a final before you can win one, and therefore the Black Caps should win Sunday’s Cricket World Cup decider since they lost the final in 2015. Others point out that their opponents, England, have already lost three finals and are playing at home. The 2019 Black Caps, as Dan McGlashan writes, need to take their inspiration from the champion Crusaders team – of 1999.
The 1999 Super Rugby season followed a similar format to this year’s Cricket World Cup. The twelve teams all played each other in a round robin league, and then the top four played in semifinals, with the top team playing the fourth-ranked one and second playing third. The final would be played at the home ground of the highest-ranked finalist.
The Crusaders started the season with wins, but the wheels fell off the campaign in later rounds and they limped into the semifinals in fourth position. Their semifinal was away against the Queensland Reds, a team that had beaten them by 13 points during the round robin stage. To the surprise of many, the Crusaders won the game 28-22.
The lesser-favoured team also won the other semifinal, with the Otago Highlanders taking down the Stormers in South Africa. This meant that the Highlanders were the highest-ranked finalist, having been third at the end of the pool stage to the Crusaders’ fourth. The final would therefore be at Carisbrook, Dunedin.
Despite having qualified fourth, and despite having to win away, the Crusaders were able to overcome. They won the final 24-19 despite the hostile Otago crowd and the gallant efforts of the Highlanders.
The Black Caps have had a similar campaign this year. Their World Cup started with a number of wins against the easy teams, and then some very tight games, and then some losses. Consequently, they limped into the semifinals in fourth place.
India was heavily favoured to win the semifinal, having only lost one game during the round robin. However, vulnerabilities had been exposed in the Indian win against Afghanistan, and the Black Caps took advantage to win the fixture by 18 runs.
That the Black Caps have not been favoured to win is an understatement. Smarter media pundits, such as VJM Publishing, have been reporting for years that this Black Caps unit is an excellent side: their players stack up statistically to the world’s best, they’re better man-for-man than the 2015 side and we believed years ago that they could be the No. 1 ODI side in the world.
The mainstream media, by contrast, has been spewing out pessimistic garbage. They don’t simply remember the sporting landscape of 1999 – they’re stuck in it. Hence, they write as if the Black Caps were still as unfavoured as the team of 1999.
This garbage, however, could be used as fuel to spark a fire, the kind of fire that inspired Andrew Mehrtens to give a one-fingered salute to a raucous Bulls crowd on his way to leading the Crusaders to the 1999 title.
It’s true that the English team is probably the favourites. Not only are they the No. 1 ranked ODI team in the world, but they also beat the Black Caps in their pool stage encounter. This isn’t a bad thing from the Black Caps’ perspective – it just means that they have to do two things.
The first is to go to the final with an attitude of defiance. It’s probably fair to say that the 2015 Black Caps side were a little overawed by the occasion of a Cricket World Cup final. They were playing in the 90,000-seat home stadium of the five-time world champions. The Black Caps looked, and played, nervously that day. Those nerves may have led to incorrect decisions being made.
The 2019 side shows no sign of this. Kane Williamson has been a colossus of silk and steel who plays with the self-belief of a prophet of God, and his lieutenants all have experience from playing in the last final. Martin Guptill, Ross Taylor, Trent Boult and Matt Henry have all played multiple World Cup knockout games by now, with Guptill and Henry even winning Man of the Match in two of them.
They need to take this newly-won confidence into the final, then double down on it. Let them rage coldly against their doubters, against the sheep-like mockers. Let them take the field with the belief that they’re not there to do well or evenly merely to win, but to write their names into history.
For a second thing, they have to do something new that England isn’t expecting.
That something unexpected might be swapping Guptill and Tom Latham in the batting order. If Latham opened the batting with Henry Nicholls, the Black Caps would have their two best leavers of the ball to see out the first six overs. So far this World Cup, the ball has not swung much past the six over mark, and so surviving this period becomes crucial (as India found out to their dismay).
Opening with Guptill makes sense if the bat dominates the ball, as it has done for most of the past four years. If the ball dominates the bat, however, as has been the case for much of this World Cup, Guptill tends to nick off or miss a moving one early and get out. Better to have Latham and Nicholls deal with this, then to have Guptill come in at 5 once Williamson and Taylor have seen off the main danger.
Nothing needs to change in the bowling department. The Black Caps produced one of their greatest ever bowling performances in the semifinal, with lethal accuracy up front and then a dogged refusal to give away bad balls as the innings progressed. If they can bowl that well again, or even close to it, England will have to play extremely well to score 270 or more.
The Black Caps need to summon the iron-willed spirit of the 1999 Crusaders team. Then they can go into an away final against a favoured opponent with the attitude of sticking it up all of them, their crowd and their media. This need not mean they go against their established culture of goodwill and fair play – it just means they have to play with a bit more steel in the spine.
Summon the spirit of the Crusaders side of 20 years ago, and the Black Caps could be world champions on Monday morning.
Understanding New Zealand, by Dan McGlashan and published by VJM Publishing, is the comprehensive guide to the demographics and voting patterns of the New Zealand people. It is available on TradeMe (for Kiwis) and on Amazon (for international readers).