Sport, best of the year: 5 Record-breaking Black Caps

By David Leggat

The hounds were on their backs. After a poor tour of South Africa, and with eight straight losses against their nearest and dearest rivals behind them, no one gave New Zealand a chance in the third ODI at Christchurch last weekend.

After all, they'd blown it in Wellington three nights earlier, when they fell three short chasing 322.

And when the bowlers once again dished up a dog's breakfast in the final 10 overs, New Zealand were chasing 332.

There were bold hands from Lou Vincent and Jacob Oram in support of Scott Styris' fine 101.

But when Oram and Styris departed at 258 for eight, seven overs remained in drizzly rain for Brendon McCullum, Daniel Vettori and last man Kyle Mills to score 74.

Funny game, cricket. Not only was Mills not required, but the runs were got with an over to spare.

McCullum, the spirited wicketkeeper with a big heart, led the way with a slashing unbeaten 50 off only 25 balls, repeatedly slamming the ball over the cover boundary, while stand-in captain Vettori hit 23 off 12 balls.

Mick Lewis, an Australia medium pacer who looks like a bloke who wandered into the dressing room from a building site, was whupped for 20 in his final over as New Zealand established a world record for an ODI run chase.

There is much to admire about McCullum's cricket, and he's the sort the Aussies probably have some time for. Plenty of guts, skilled and no hint of taking a backward step.

Ditto Vettori, but then we've known that for years.

It is players like McCullum on whom the fortunes of New Zealand will rest for the next 10 years.

The frustrations remain with the Black Caps. Too often one or two players fire as the rest fall.

If they are to have a chance of winning the next World Cup in the Caribbean in 2007, there's much to be done in the interim.

Chief among them is getting all the parts working at the same time. Consistently. And finding a couple of blokes to bowl properly in the closing overs.

But Christchurch provided a glorious night in the rain, and a glimpse at what this team might achieve.

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