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New Zealand in Champions Trophy Final – Don’t Dream it’s Over

Dave Griffith
Dave Griffith

You will have realised by now that you are not dreaming. Fronting up at work on a Monday morning should have been enough to jolt us back to the reality that we have been awake all along. New Zealand really is in the final of the Champions Trophy. The trick now is – don’t dream it’s over.

All around Asia fat bookmakers are contemplating what to spend their latest millions on.  There can’t have been too many world cricket fans that had Australia and New Zealand playing in the final.  Well I guess the Aussie fans always have their team making the final, and they are usually right. But New Zealand was only beaten to last place seeding by a second string West Indies team.
My comfort in getting the identities of the finalists wrong is that my team has got there and not many others picked them to make it either (except for Daniels Mum of course).
I wasn’t alone in picking South Africa, India, Sri Lanka and Pakistan to make the semi-finals. Maybe the problem was that some of those teams also picked themselves to do it as well and were not as focussed on the lesser teams as they should have been. This competition wasn’t like a World Cup where you always had the minnows to drop out at the group stages. The Champions trophy format, with only the top eight teams, meant dropping a game left a team on the brink of elimination.
So how did New Zealand get there? In recent seasons we have had most of our top order batsmen wanting to dominate the bowlers first and survival was secondary. Nothing much has changed there, and sometimes it comes off, but more often than not it doesn’t. Then we relied on the all-rounders and bowlers to bat us through. This worked fine when McCullum was batting down the order with Oram and Vettori providing excellent support. Then McCullum got his wish to go to the top of the order and Oram got promoted a couple of notches as well. Orams natural game is to have a go. That is perfect for the last 10 overs, when quick runs are more important than time at the crease. But when he was coming in with 25 overs to go he tried to calm his game and play defensively. It looked awful and he was caught in two minds. Often chewing up balls and not getting many runs before succumbing.  
The traditional style of One Day Cricket was to have a flyer at the beginning then settle down in the middle overs accumulating runs and preserving wickets, then having another crack at the end.
What has happened is that Vettori has put himself into the middle order and teamed up with Grant Elliott, who has replaced the injured Oram. Both players are grafters who do what the team requires to bat 50 overs. They can score quick runs if they have to but are smart enough to know that the run rate can be kept in touch with the asking rate by not taking too many risks, turning the strike over, and sending the occasional bad ball to the boundary. They are the kind of players that New Zealand has not had too few of since the days of Chris Harris, Andrew Jones and Jeremy Coney.
What is the secret of our success? No stars with reputations to maintain. Many of the stars of the more fancied teams have batted and bowled with their reputations rather than adjusting to what the pitch and their team requires. This is probably a spin-off of the new IPL driven riches in the game. Players are paid more by their IPL franchise than by their Countries. With the big dollars come big expectations on individuals, both in performance and entertainment.
McCullum is the closest we have in that category and he bats like the 20/20 star he is but in a 50 over game that is not always in the best interests of the team. Failing with the bat 3 out of 4 times is not what we need, especially with Ryder and Guptill are in the same batting style boat. That means often New Zealand find themselves  4 down for about 100 runs after 15 overs, leaving the middle order and the tail to face 35 more overs. It needs to be the other way around with the top order batting for 35 overs and the middle order and tail blazing away at the end.
In this tournament the occasional top order score has got us through, but more often than not it is the middle order grafters that have been the match winners. Our bowlers have gone well as a unit. They will have benefited from opposition players not giving them enough respect. When class batsmen don’t give respect to international bowlers even if they are from Bangladesh, New Zealand or Zimbabwe, then more likely than not they will find themselves back in the pavilion.
Well done New Zealand. You have a tremendous opportunity to win the final. The Australian bowling unit is not as fearsome as it used to be (but please respect them). The batting line-up is still strong, but knock over the top order cheaply and it could get interesting.
As always with the New Zealand cricket team, we expect nothing and enjoy the success, when it comes. We won the 2000 Champions trophy largely because Chris Cairns was in sublime form in the middle order. This time around we have Elliott and Vettori in form in the middle order. Hopefully a repeat is on the cards. In a ‘one-off’ game anything can happen and being rank underdogs is our natural habitat on the world cricket scene.
Pull this one off and kiwi crickets fans and the Asian bookmakers will have the biggest grins in the cricketing world for a while, but for very different reasons.  
Appropriately for a Kiwi/Aussie final I’ll leave the last word to that great Kiwi/Aussie band Crowded House. No matter what the result, Australasian cricket wins. Sing along with me in a tribute to Daniels Mum and the one or two others out there who kept the faith in the Black Caps and dared to dream.
“Hey now, hey now
Don't dream it's over
Hey now, hey now
When the world comes in
They come, they come
To build a wall between us
We know they won't win”

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