Nearly-men New Zealand steeled for final

6:02 am on 14 July 2019

Too fragile, too slow and boasting too many popgun players to be a World Cup threat.

The Black Caps celebrate the run out of M S Dhoni at Old Trafford.

The Black Caps celebrate the run out of M S Dhoni at Old Trafford. Photo: Photosport

New Zealand's cricketers were written off far and wide as their semi-final against India loomed, not least so in their own country.

Not worthy of a last four spot, various commentators opined, one even describing the Black Caps' play as "boring" and that the tournament would have benefited from Pakistan having been the lucky nation to sneak through fourth on net run rate.

Three losses to finish pool play had seemingly sucked the fizz out of the players and their support base.

Then came a new ball assault on the stunned Indians at Old Trafford.

The heartbeat of a memorable 2015 campaign was revived, beating louder than ever.

A final against England at Lord's awaits. The expectant, power-packed hosts against gritty New Zealand, the nearly-men who qualified for six semi-finals before their maiden appearance in the decider four years ago.

Brendon McCullum was the face of 2015, for six weeks the skipper urging New Zealanders to "dare to dream" during an unbeaten run that came unstuck when they crossed the Tasman for the first time, overawed by Australia at the MCG.

McCullum had called on his team to shed the scrappers tag and to bully opponents with bat and ball.

Under his successor Kane Williamson, plucky is back.

The understated skipper is thoughtful and pragmatic and his runs are gold dust.

Williamson's 548 runs have come at a tournament-high average of 91.33. His strike rate of 76.32 is the slowest among any of the top 20 run-scorers.

How it happens doesn't matter to Williamson, who will play successive finals alongside Martin Guptill, Ross Taylor and Trent Boult.

Deadly seamer Boult, New Zealand's likeliest match-winner, spoke of a steely desire to atone for their subdued performance in Melbourne.

"The World Cup final is a unique experience, obviously having a taste of it, 97,000 people at the MCG was pretty crazy," he told journalists.

"I'm sure that will put us in good stead. The side's been together a long time, we've played enough cricket to understand what works well.

"Don't get carried away, keep it simple and I think we're good enough to beat anyone on the day. We can't wait to have another crack at it. It would mean everything for us."