“The past is never dead. It's not even past.” – William Faulkner
New Zealand’s first Cricket World Cup semi-final came at the first ever Cricket World Cup. 1975 in England and a lovely unbeaten century from Glenn Turner had seen the kiwis past India to qualify but up against a rampant West Indies side we spoiled a slow but steady start, sitting at 98/1 with Turner and Geoff Howarth out there only to lose both in the space of seven runs which sparked an old fashioned New Zealand Batting Collapse (trademark pending) to be all out for 158. Bernard Julien took 4/27 from his 12 overs… because they were 60 over game back in those days. The Windies won by five wickets with one ball under twenty overs remaining. Richard Collinge took three quick wickets near the end to make it look a little more competitive but the writing was long since on the wall. The West Indies went on to beat Australia in the final and claim the first World Cup title.
Four years later and people were starting to figure out this One Day International thing. New Zealand again made the semis thanks to a nine-wicket win over Sri Lanka and an eight-wicket win over India (cheers to a bowling attack spearheaded by Hadlee/Troup/Cairns), where we met hosts England at Old Trafford. Choosing to bowl first after winning the toss, New Zealand started well when Hadlee chipped Geoffrey Boycott out early but 53 from Mike Brearley and 71 for Graham Gooch got England through to a cheeky 221/8 off their 60 overs… times (and run rates) have sure changed since then. John Wright came out and played a composed innings but when he was run out for 69, leaving NZ at 112/4, things got tricky. The kiwis just couldn’t put a decent partnership together despite starts from Glenn Turner and Warren Lees and eventually fell nine runs short despite batting out their overs. England then got pummelled by a masterclass from Viv Richards in the final, the West Indies going back to back.
The eighties were supposedly a golden era for kiwi cricket but we were kinda mud at World Cups, it wouldn’t be until the 1992 event, co-hosted in Australia and New Zealand, that we’d return to the semis. Those Blackcaps really captured a moment as Martin Crowe’s lads thought outside the box (opening the bowling with spinner Dipak Patel! Opening the batting with pinch-hitter Mark Greatbatch!) and sparked their way to the top of the round robin table. It was all looking sweet against Pakistan in the semi at Eden Park too until Martin Crowe aggravated a hammy on his way to top scoring with 91. Even still, the Cappies set a total of 262/7, Ken Rutherford also scoring 50, that looked pretty bloody competitive after getting through the pace of Wasim Akram and Imran Khan. With Pakistan at 140/4 it looked even more competitive (even with Crowe sitting in the sheds with ice on his hammy). But then Inzy came in. A young Inzamam-ul-Haq proceeded to bash 60 off 37 deliveries and by the time he was finally run out (of course he was run out) Pakistan were only forty runs short and Javed Miandad did the rest with an unbeaten 57. The one that got away. Pakistan went on to beat England by 22 runs in the final.
Things weren’t so close against the same opposition seven years later. A day before the infamous tied game between Australia and South Africa, Stephen Fleming won the toss and chose to bat first vs Pakistan but Shoaib Akhtar and Wasim Akram both took early wickets, dismissing Nathan Astle and Craig McMillan cheaply. There were starts for Matt Horne (35), Fleming (41), Roger Twose (46), and Chris Cairns (44no) but nobody was able to pass fifty on the way to setting 241/7 in another semi-final in Manchester, England. Would that be enough to defend? Could our comprehensive selection of medium pacers rip through the Pakistani top order? Well they lost their first wicket at 194/1 so… short answer there was: no. Saeed Anwar hit 113no and Pakistan won by nine-wickets. They were then skittled for 132 by the rampantly victorious Australia in the final.
Having missed out on the semis in 2003 (partly because of the points lost from boycotting their game against Kenya for security reasons), the Cappies were back at it in 2007, winning their first six games before being picked off by Sri Lanka in the Super Eight. But they responded by beating South Africa to qualify for the semis, then resting Shane Bond for what was an absolute hiding at the hands of Australia in their final super eight contest. In the semis they drew Sri Lanka again and having lost the toss and being asked to field, James Franklin was able to skittle Sanath Jayasuriya and he later picked up the danger wicket of Kumar Sangakkara too. However an undefeated 115 from Mahela Jayawardene, backed up by Upal Tharanga’s 73, saw Sri Lanka through to 289/5 in Kingston, Jamaica. In response New Zealand just never got going. Fleming was trapped leg before by Muttiah Muralitharan early on and Murali would go on to take 4/31. The Blackcaps were bowled out for 208 with nobody passing fifty – Peter Fulton was the top scorer with 46. He and Scott Styris had things looking okay at 105/2 in the 22nd over but pretty soon that read 116/7 and she was already cooked from then onwards.
Having stumbled through to 221/8 against one of the finest South African batting orders there’s ever been in the quarters, the Blackcaps can’t have been massively confident of coming out on top of that one. But what do you know? Jacob Oram took four wickets, Nathan McCullum took three, and none of a top six that read: Amla, Smith, Kallis, de Villiers, Duminy, and du Plessis was able to get to fifty, the Blackcaps winning a famous one by 49 runs to make the semis yet again. In those semis it was the old foes Sri Lanka there awaiting… and you can guess how that one went. Bowled out for 217 in Colombo, with Ajantha Mendis and Lasith Malinga each taking three – Scott Styris topping with 57 runs – the hosts were too good and too experienced at this stage of the tournament to let it slip. Tim Southee took 3/57 from his ten overs but Oram and Nate Mac weren’t able to repeat their semi-final heroics as fifties from Tillakaratne Dilshan and Kumar Sangakkara led Sri Lanka to a five wicket victory. Six World Cup semi-finals for the New Zealanders and six defeats to this point.
The one that broke the curse. Brendon McCullum’s revolutionaries, playing their natural games, playing cricket with passion and enjoyment, playing aggressively and taking risks. As co-hosts they cruised through the group stages playing lovely cricket, highlighted by the skittling of England in Wellington and the utter drama of the one-wicket win over Australia in Auckland, before Martin Guptill did something special with a double century in the quarters against West Indies. The semi was in Auckland against South Africa, another team famous for not getting over the line. Trent Boult got a couple early wickets but Faf du Plessis scored 82 and AB de Villier and David Miller pummelled the ball around the place on the way to 281/5 from 43 overs with rain affecting things and New Zealand being left with an adjusted target of 298 to win in their own 43 overs. Well, Brendon McCullum wasn’t having that, obliterating his way to 59 runs off 26 balls to get things rolling. Guptill and Taylor got starts but it was Grant Elliott and Corey Anderson who put together a 103 run partnership to take it deep. The rest was history. (Final coulda gone better tho).
Losing three games on the trot didn’t have the Blackcaps in the best position coming in against India, not with some shocking production from the opening bats and a selection of bowlers who didn’t look like they could take wickets. And it didn’t get any better as India put the clamps on early doors, leaving Williamson and Taylor to scrap away at a cautious rate to try and set something, anything, that Trent Boult and co could bowl to. Williamson was dismissed for 67 while Taylor was still there when the rain set it, causing a very premature end to the day. We’d pick up where we left off on the reserve day and Taylor got through to 74 before being run out by Ravi Jadeja, with NZ posting 239/8. Seemed like an okay target under the circumstances but only if the lads could take some early wickets. Fast forward a few minutes and India were 5/3 with Rohit Sharma, KL Rahul, and Virat Kohli in the sheds. Now the clamps were on once more. Rishab Pant and Hardik Pandya each scored 32 but were each also caught out trying to up the ante against Mitch Santner. MS Dhoni and Jadeja threatened to give India an incredible victory but then Jadeja fell for 77 with 32 runs to win (off 19 balls) and Dhoni was run out for 50 the very next over. A second consecutive World Cup final appearance, how about that?
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