In the end it was simple. Australia had conquered the invincible New Zealanders and in the process dashed the dreams of literally billions of people. Surely everyone who doesn’t have their home of girt by sea was on the Black Caps’ side this morning; from Argentina to Azerbaijan, from Gibraltar to Georgia (and we know you’re reading this), this was one country versus one world. But it was so simple – and it was Devereux who finished it off.
With hindsight, it was perhaps inevitable. Through playing all their previous games at home, New Zealand had certainly had an advantage (but no doubt would have reached the final even if they were playing in the Kimberley, such were their performances), but this was u-turned into a disadvantage for the final. The batsmen certainly seemed to find it hard to get settled in the different conditions of the MCG – only Grant Elliott emerged from the final with extra credit – and the pace and carry extracted by Mitchell Starc was definitely a factor that contributed to their terrible start.
Some of us also thought the amazing finale to the semi-final might have been New Zealand’s Everest, and so it turned out. Each player failed to match their personal achievements from earlier in the tournament – apart from Luke Ronchi who was plain shit throughout. It wasn’t through lack of trying, or wanting, but it just seemed as if New Zealand were already winners by virtue of reaching the final for the first time, something that your Cairnses, Hadlees and Crowes had not been able to do.
They at least went out from the start with the aim of replicating their attacking and buccaneering style of play. Will Brendon McCullum be regretting his innings? Who knows – it feels wrong to criticise him but it was terrible. To his first two balls he huffed and puffed as he swung his blade extravagantly at Starc’s rapid swingers, missing both by the width of the Tasman Sea. And with his third, Starc blew his stumps down. Before it even began, it felt over. Two more cheap wickets, seemingly through misreading the conditions or lack of concentration, and New Zealand seemed done. It was actually a surprise to reawaken from a brief snooze to see that Elliott and Ross Taylor had managed to limit the damage after such a horrible start.
But then the piss poor powerplay happened. The collapse was rapid. It may have been coincidence that it occurred as the great shadow of the MCG’s Kosciuszko-like stands crossed the wicket, but we think this was significant. New Zealand certainly won’t use it as an excuse, but it must be difficult to play 90mph deliveries that emerge from dark shadow to glaring light in the space of 22 yards (or vice-versa). Recall Don Bradman – a crack bat – walking slowly and in a bent route to the wicket ahead of every innings so that his eyes grew accustomed to the light. In the gloaming of the G, New Zealand were like mayflys (i.e. they die at night, not because they have two penises).
The run-chase was serene, apart from Trent Boult’s early dismissal of Aaron Finch. Captain Clarke, justifiably criticised by some for announcing his retirement on the eve of the match, batted beautifully, and it seemed unjust that he was not there at the end. But he will return in whites later this year; giving up ODIs these days is hardly VE day in terms of flag-waving pomp. What was fitting, in this hardest of Australian cricketing summers, was Clarke’s words for their 16th squad member. In the media, Phil Hughes hasn’t been a big part of the tournament’s narrative at all – surprising in this day and age – but in the Australian dressing room he must have been a presence. When Smith fittingly hit the winning runs, the look upon the Australian faces wasn’t just delight, but relief. The majority of their team may be unbearable (note the regular sledging from Brad Haddin and James Faulkner – wasn’t cricket meant to have moved on recently?), but Clarke – Hughes’ big brother – and his heir Smith hopefully now get the respect they deserve.
We’re still Black Caps at heart though.