Cricket: Black Caps deserve pass mark

By David Leggat

New Zealand falling at the semifinal fence for the sixth time in World Cups was no surprise, nor the manner of the loss to Sri Lanka yesterday.

The old problem of insufficient runs did for them in the sticky heat of the Premadasa Stadium as the joint hosts, to no raised eyebrows, took their place in Saturday night's final in Mumbai.

So do New Zealand depart deflated or satisfied at their achievement?

They deserve a decent pass mark, considering their leadup.

After their stumblings along the ODI road they pulled things together, achieved three wins from five against the major nations, enhanced South Africa's wretched cup record along the way and gave themselves a chance of making the big show at the weekend.

They were the only non-Asian team in the last four, did better than Australia, South Africa, England and the wobbly West Indies.

The vagaries of the draw helped in part - the Aussies drawing India in the quarter-final, for example - but you can't ask much more than that, remembering New Zealand entered the tournament ranked seventh.

Sri Lanka possess the game's most varied attack, a whirlygig confection of left and right hand oddball spin and round arm pace. Whether it's India or Pakistan they face, their hands will be full against this lot.

New Zealand's inability to make even another 25 runs cost them. The bowlers toiled hard, the fielding was again top notch, but losing their last six wickets for just 23 was immensely frustrating. They'd done good work to that stage. The foundation was there, even if Scott Styris was the only batsman to pass 40.

The most significant dismissal was Kane Williamson's, after he and Styris were sailing along having added 41 in 4.2 overs during the power play.

But you cannot expect batsmen from No 8 down to have much idea how to combat Lasith Malinga - whose fabulous yorker to remove Martin Guptill is the ball of the cup so far - and the baffling spin of Muttiah Muralitharan and Ajantha Mendis.

"We stuck to the game plan exactly how we wanted it, but starting against the Sri Lankan bowling lineup on that wicket is incredibly tough," captain Dan Vettori said.

The bowlers needed everything to fall their way. Tim Southee finished a fine tournament with a further three wickets and Andy McKay added some belated left arm zip, but New Zealand ran out of runs to work with.

There were others who can reflect with satisfaction on their work. Jacob Oram, with 12 cheap wickets, can thumb his nose at the doubters; Ross Taylor averaged a strong 64.

But New Zealand badly needed more from Brendon McCullum, who managed only 53 runs off 56 balls in five innings against the major nations.

New Zealand next step out against Bangladesh in September-October. A review into New Zealand's performance at the cup will start shortly.

Vettori won't be in charge when Bangladesh rolls around; Oram and Styris may or may not be there. Change is in the air.

Pick up a copy of Super Sport in tomorrow's Herald for a free calendar pullout of all sporting events across the next three months.

- NZ Herald

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