Black Caps' knockout curse shows no sign of ending

By Tim Wigmore

Corey Anderson bats during the Black Caps' semifinal loss to England. Photo / AP
Corey Anderson bats during the Black Caps' semifinal loss to England. Photo / AP

No country has reached more than New Zealand's nine semi-finals across the World Cup and World Twenty20. Yet only once, when Grant Elliott smeared Dale Steyn for six over long on in Eden Park last year, have New Zealand been victorious in a semi-final.

This was among New Zealand's most dispiriting defeats. They arrived in Delhi as the tournament's outstanding team, the only side to win all four Super 10 matches. They leave Delhi after England chased down 154 with 17 balls remaining: by T20 standards, this was a thumping.

New Zealand's start gave no hint of the mayhem that was to come. Even with Martin Guptill flashing behind in the third over, New Zealand reached 89-1 off ten overs. While Kane Williamson accumulated in typically undemonstrative style, Colin Munro played his most substantive innings of the tournament.

Munro is a batsman of no great subtlety, but nor does he claim to be. He emerged bristling with intent, as he always does, and found a wicket with more life than some of the turgid tracks that New Zealand have played on thus far.

There was a trademark switch hit, thrashing Adil Rashid over point, and a huge six over long off off Ben Stokes. Munro scored only five runs came between the wicket-keeper and long-off on the offside, and four through that switch-hit, but it did not seem to matter.

Yet after Williamson was dismissed attempting to attack Moeen Ali, New Zealand's middle order were exposed. Here it became clear what the form of Martin Guptil had disguised: a middle order that, while resourceful enough, was a batsman-lite on flatter wickets.

Grant Elliott and Mitchell Santner are adept at working the ball around, but feel distinctly lightweight set against the other finishers - Jos Buttler, Andre Russell and MS Dhoni - from the four semi-finalists.

Even Luke Ronchi, who should be the Black Caps' source of late innings pyrotechnics, has floundered since his crucial cameo against India. And New Zealand's use of Ross Taylor has come to resemble how South Africa deploy AB de Villiers: in their desperation for him to provide late innings impetus, New Zealand have let Taylor slip too far down the order, and not allowed such a classy player on Indian wickets to face enough balls.

Here the upshot was that New Zealand scored only 64 from the last ten overs and, when thrashing at the death was needed, instead scored a meek 20-5 in the last four overs.

In Williamson's judgement, New Zealand were left with a target 20-25 runs shy of par, and the batsmen left the abiding impression that they were more adept at hauling themselves up to match-winning totals on slower turners on which resourceful batting counts for more than six appeal.

The contrast with England was palpable from the moment that Jason Roy, aided by a little luck and a lot of pluck, thrashed 16 from Corey Anderson's opening over. New Zealand fans might have felt more comfortable had their defence instead been entrusted to another left-armer, Trent Boult, but it would be facetious to lambast the team selection that got the Black Caps this far.

If there was a criticism of Williamson's captaincy, it was in holding back spin until the fifth over, by which point England's openers were already settled and in ravenous mood.

As Roy plundered his way to a 44-ball 78, there was a certain irony. England have been very open about how their new buccaneering style in limited overs cricket derives much inspiration from New Zealand, who mauled them at the Cake Tin in the World Cup last year. It was this wish to emulate Brendon McCullum's side that led to Roy's ODI call-up for the series with the Kiwis last year. He struggled then, being dismissed by Boult for a golden duck on debut, but here England's apprentices triumphed.

Even the unbecoming end, with Jos Buttler harrumphing three sixes in four balls, could not detract from a fine campaign for New Zealand. They overcame the group of death and an arduous schedule to maintain their proud record in world events; along the way, Mitchell Santner and Ish Sodhi, whose googly claimed another victim here, did enough to suggest they could soon be used as spin twins across all three formats of the game. But even they were not enough to overcome New Zealand's knockout curse that shows no sign of ending.

In truth the wonder is not why New Zealand keep getting to semi-finals. It is how, despite having the smallest population of any of the ten Test nations and being relatively financially impoverished after the 'Big Three' takeover of the ICC in 2014, New Zealand keep getting this far.

- NZ Herald

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