Cricket: Four years to get over that block

By David Leggat

New Zealand's defeat to Sri Lanka in the World Cup semifinal this week was their sixth elimination at that point in 10 tournaments.

And it raises the question: is that to be forever New Zealand's lot? Good and competitive, awkward opponents but not quite classy or resilient enough for the final step.

Down the years since the Cup began as a 60-over show between eight teams in England 36 years ago, New Zealand have gained a reputation as the climbers who, 20 metres from the summit, lose their grip.

In truth this was not their best chance to make the final.

That came in 1992 at Eden Park when New Zealand had all the elements in their favour.

They had every game at home in conditions to suit - rather like India and Sri Lanka, in fact - only to be run over late in the day by a large train called Inzamam-ul-Haq, with their inspirational captain Martin Crowe hamstrung and able only to look on in despair from beyond the boundary.

But New Zealand did well in this year's campaign. They beat their lower-ranked opponents - and before chortling that so they should: England probably felt the same before facing Ireland.

They were steamrolled by Australia, beat Pakistan on the back of Ross Taylor's century, were well beaten by Sri Lanka and outsmarted South Africa in the quarter-final only to come up short again against the Sri Lankans.

Losing to Sri Lanka in their own conditions is no disgrace. The disappointment came in being unable to see out the batting strategy to give themselves a sniff. Having the last six wickets tumble for just 23 can happen against top-class bowling. Expecting the lower order to prosper in the latter stages against Lasith Malinga, Muttiah Muralitharan and Ajantha Mendis is a stretch. So New Zealand finished up about 30 runs shy.

Thirty runs the line between elimination and a place in the final? Probably, considering the way New Zealand bowled and especially fielded.

It's a small margin, which probably makes it tougher for the players to stomach. More so than getting a 100-run whopping.

They'll get home and ponder what might have been and, with a four-month break for those without Indian Premier League or English county contracts, what lies ahead.

In that time a new director of cricket will be installed, the next selection panel settled upon and coaching support staff signed up.

Uppermost in the public mind is the captaincy issue.

Brendon McCullum's lacklustre form in the big games, where his best score was 16, was perhaps the single biggest disappointment out of the campaign. On its own it might not necessarily hurt his chances, but it can't have helped them.

Taylor has his head in front and is likely to stay there.

What is clear is that New Zealand have a new bowling leader.

Tim Southee grew in stature during the tournament. Only two players had taken more than his 18 wickets going into tonight's final.

How to rate New Zealand at the World Cup? They earned a pass mark, remembering the state they were in three months ago.

The challenge for coach John Wright and all connected with the team is how to move beyond that invisible semifinal block. Time is on their side. They've got four years to figure it out.

And remember New Zealand will be at home in 2015.

- NZ Herald

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