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No fairytale finish for New Zealand at Cricket World Cup

March 29, 2015

MELBOURNE, Australia (AP) — New Zealand whetted the appetite of the world for an underdog victory at the Cricket World Cup but couldn’t conjure the last and longed-for victory, losing Sunday’s final by seven wickets to Australia.

The story of New Zealand’s unbeaten progress through the tournament to reach its first final enriched the Cup and charmed the cricket world, yet its ending was anti-climactic.

Fans won over by the achievements of a team which played with boldness, with a sense of fun, and of sportsmanship not always seen in a modern professional game, watched on Sunday as their hopes and New Zealand’s were crushed as Australia collected a fifth title.

Instead, it was Australia captain Michael Clarke, playing his last one-day international, who made 74 to appropriate the dream finish.

New Zealand captain Brendon McCullum promised on the eve of the match that New Zealand wouldn’t be intimidated by Australia or the occasion. He said New Zealand would continue to play with the freedom it displayed in winning its eight previous matches, including a one-wicket win over Australia in pool play.

But when McCullum was bowled by Mitchell Starc for a third-ball duck in the first over of the match, an almost visible wave of doubt and apprehension swept through the New Zealand team and its supporters. Oppressed by an Australian pace attack which bowled with ruthless intensity, New Zealand lost the blueprint of its previous success and was all out for 183, a total Australia surpassed in 33.1 overs.

“No regrets,” McCullum said. “This is greatest stage you could ask for as a cricketer, this is what you do all your hard work for, all the time away, all the sacrifices you make.

“We’ve had the opportunities as a group of guys to go on this ride and we’ve forged some memories and friendships which will last forever. We obviously weren’t able to lift the trophy but the brand of cricket and the entertainment we’ve been able to give people throughout our country and throughout the world is something we’re immensely proud of.

“We walk away from this tournament with our heads held high.”

Clarke imposed continuous and stifling pressure on New Zealand through the manipulation of his attack, changing his bowlers frequently; of the 10 dismissals in New Zealand’s innings, six batsmen fell in the first over of a bowler’s new spell.

Grant Elliott, who made 84 not out in the semifinal win over South Africa, played a more sober but equally vital innings of 83 from 82 balls to arrest the disintegration of the innings. Elliott’s partnership of 111 in 97 minutes with Ross Taylor (40) for the fourth wicket reawakened some hope after New Zealand was reduced to 39-3 at the start of the 13th over.

“We got ourselves back in the game at 3-150,” McCullum said. “But as Australia do, they came back at us again and to take 7-30 as they did, they put us under a lot of pressure. We were the second-best team on the day.”

Elliott hit seven fours and a six in an innings which contained only 12 fours and three sixes in total. Though it lasted 45 overs, the innings never really recovered from the shock of its beginning.

McCullum failed to lay bat on any of the three deliveries he faced from Starc which were the third, fourth and fifth balls of the first over. He swung lustily at all three, hoping to unleash the power-hitting which has launched New Zealand’s innings so effectively and given him a strike-rate of 191 throughout the tournament.

By the fifth over New Zealand was only 18-1 and owed that small total to a top-edged six by Guptill off Josh Hazlewood. When Starc was first removed from the attack, he was replaced by Mitchell Johnson, and the pressure continued unabated.

When Hazlewood was rested, offspinner Glenn Maxwell was introduced, and bowled Guptill (15) with his second ball. New Zealand was 31-1 at the end of the first 10-over powerplay, while previously at the tournament it had averaged 77 in those overs.

When Williamson offered a return catch to Johnson in the 13th over, New Zealand was 39-3.

Elliott and Taylor grew their partnership in stature, and Elliott reached his ninth half century from 51 balls. But when Taylor was out in the 36th over, to the first ball of the batting powerplay and in an over in which James Faulkner claimed two wickets with three balls, New Zealand’s innings again went into steep decline.

It’s last seven wickets fell for 33 runs, and hopes of a fairytale victory tumbled with each one.

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