OPINION: Home they all come, heads above water, just. This wasn't a flash NZ side but good coaching and, one suspects, some tough love got them further than we thought possible.
In the past week we have seen a game plan and a group of batsmen attempting to follow it.
That they failed to properly execute it both times – against South Africa in the quarter-final and Sri Lanka in the semifinal – is no great surprise, but at least the intent was there. Coach John Wright's plan for his previously clueless batsmen was to accumulate runs and save wickets till the dying overs where they would try to cash in big time.
The bowlers always do a serviceable job and backed up by the best fielding unit at the World Cup, New Zealand suddenly found they were competitive.
At the innings breaks of both their knockout games, New Zealand were 30 runs shy of their desired target, but at least they were still in the contest. South Africa crumbled, while Sri Lanka were held together long enough by the tournament's most valuable player, Kumar Sangakkara.
You get the impression Wright is slowly knocking this team into shape. He seems to have won over Vettori and the senior players, who were doubters from day one.
Into retirement now, or in the near future, will go Kyle Mills, Jacob Oram and Scott Styris. In the short term that will weaken the side, but Wright will find the fresh blood less complicated.
Coaching has been under-valued by New Zealand Cricket since John Bracewell departed at the end of 2008. The introduction of South African legend Allan Donald as bowling coach has also had considerable upside.
Previously they had settled for a journeyman coach in Shane Jurgensen but in the new era Tim Southee has lost weight, found pace and a nasty streak since Donald became involved. That Wellington left-armer Andy McKay played last night ahead of Daryl Tuffey had a hint of Donald and Vettori about it.
New Zealand will kick themselves on their flight home because each time they got in a position of promise they threw it away against Sri Lanka.
Ross Taylor (36 from 55 balls) had done the hard work then mistimed a pull, Kane Williamson (22 off 16) played a peach of an innings in the power play but fell chancing his arm when the home side was on the run.
But the game's pivotal moment came in the 47th over. This was Murali's farewell game in Sri Lanka and with the final ball of his last over Styris (57 off 77) needlessly looked to work him off the stumps for a single to square leg and was trapped in front.
Murali waved his cap to the excited crowd, Sri Lanka lifted, New Zealand lost 4-4 in three overs and the game was gone.
- The Dominion Post
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