New Zealand – Cricket world champions in their own right
While there have been several thousand column inches about the 2021 sports scene, there have been some impressive achievements that have been overlooked in favour of higher profile sports.
And New Zealand team’s cricketing performance is one, although it has earned them admiration from sports fans across the world over.
Sporting commentators widely regarded the Black Caps’ loss to England in 2019 as an unfortunate anomaly. The two teams initially tied on 241 runs each, leading to a Super Over that was supposed to break the tie.
In an attempt to surpass England’s score, New Zealand’s Martin Guptill was run out, meaning that the Super Over resulted in a tie. England’s win was based on a boundary count but there was a lingering sense of dissatisfaction on both sides, so this year’s contest was always going to be tense.
The road to the final
Many commentators believed that the previous World Cup’s frustrating final would make the New Zealand team more determined than ever during this year’s contest and there was plenty to suggest they were right.
The contest officially began for New Zealand when they played their opening match against Sri Lanka in 2019. The New Zealand team kept fans on their toes with a 1-1 draw, going on to lose against Australia in December 2019.
But it was not long before the team found their stride and they beat India in early 2020 before winning against the West Indies and Pakistan to reach their goal of a place in the final. Meanwhile, India was largely undefeated in their qualifying matches, except the one against New Zealand, which should have given them a taste of what was to come.
The fans behind the team
New Zealand cricket fans are dedicated and committed, but even they were not sure that their national team had it in them to win the World Cup. Historically, the last few decades have represented something of a slump in performance with fans disappointed by the lack of top-level attainment which was responsible for some side-lining of cricket in favour of rugby in the nation’s consciousness.
However, the last few years have seen a marked change: enthusiasm has returned, the national squad has attracted a number of skilled and dedicated players, and the support of the fans has been rewarded with results. This made their technical defeat in 2019 even harder to bear, but it did demonstrate a level of skill that got fans excited about the game once again.
The final was always going to be an intense contest between the powerhouse of the Indian team and the hungry New Zealand team who had come so close to victory in 2019. Many fans likened the match to the tale of David and Goliath, with the Indian team being hotly tipped to win as well as enjoying significant national support.
New Zealand were openly considered the underdogs, with the Australian captain, Tim Paine, taking to social media to express his confidence that India would win. This may have had the opposite effect as fans rallied around their team and took to the internet to show their support.
Many cricket fans across the world were taking the historic opportunity to have a wager on the final match. Many countries across the world, including New Zealand have legalised sports betting in some form. This meant that the Kiwis could place a bet on their national team, showing their support by backing the Black Caps to win, despite some commentators treating India’s win as a foregone conclusion.
A nail-biting final
Their victory over India was by no means easy as Tom Latham and Devon Conway were taken out relatively quickly. The crowd at Southampton were backing the favourites, leaving real-life support for the Black Caps thin on the ground.
A lucky miss from Cheteshwar Pujara gave Ross Taylor a chance to build his score, working with team captain Kane Williamson to score run after run in the face of India’s best bowling. As Virat Kohli’s team failed to capitalise on the favourable batting conditions, it became apparent that New Zealand was going all-out with impressive catches and unstoppable bowling.
Victory and beyond
After their win, and the outpouring of support that the team have enjoyed during the aftermath, the New Zealand team are going to be busy. They have more matches scheduled and will be on tour in Pakistan and UAE later in the year, before heading off to Australia in early 2022 and the UK and Ireland next summer.
This victory is not only a source of national pride, but it could mark the beginning of a change in the way that New Zealand approaches the sport. With a small population and relatively little financial backing, cricket has been allowed to slide down the list of sporting priorities in New Zealand, but this victory is likely to inspire more support from sports fans and funding bodies.
Kane Williamson has proved himself a capable and skilled captain, leading from the front as he played his vital role in this year’s victory and showing humility in the face of the international shock at his team’s performance. The team has demonstrated that there is still an appetite for top level cricket among home fans, and global fans have been impressed by their skill and speed.
Their recent victory has marked the New Zealand team out as one to watch on the international cricket circuit. Their good humour and sportsmanship marked them out as ambassadors for the sport as well as accomplished players and that will go a long way to improving the reputation of New Zealand sport internationally.
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