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Two extensively different characters, two brilliant leaders lead New Zealand to two back-to-back World Cup finals….

Brendon McCullum’s team in the 2015 World Cup was considered as a match-winning side. When Kane Williamson’s BlackCaps made it to the semi-final in 2019, they walked in as underdogs. They were called as ‘easy’ opponents for a world-class Team India. Not many backed New Zealand to defeat Virat Kohli’s India at Old Trafford on Wednesday but the end result was different.

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The three consecutive defeats in the Round Robin stage were kept behind and Williamson’s boys took the semi-final as just another next game. Williamson won the toss, opted to bat and secretly hoped he didn’t have to come out to bat again in the initial overs. Williamson will now go into the final having scored 30.24 per cent of New Zealand’s runs. If there is someone who has dragged his team, literally on his shoulders, it’s Williamson.

With constant failures of the batsmen around him, Williamson has led his side from the front with the bat. He had the company of the senior-most batsman Ross Taylor but otherwise, Williamson was a lone warrior for most of the times.

Also read: New Zealand batting must go beyond Taylor & Williamson

He made some sharp decisions on the field, rotated his bowlers brilliantly against India and its streetsmart captaincy was one of the weapons which he used to un-do India, one of the contenders to win the World Cup 2019. New Zealand had slips for India almost throughout the innings along with seven fielders in the ring in the start of the innings. This shows how good a student of the game has Williamson been because he has carried this particular legacy of aggressive field set-up from Mccullum era into his own.

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“I wasn’t surprised with how New Zealand played, to be honest. If there is a low total, we knew there’s probably only one or two sides in world cricket that will put seven fielders in the ring and that was always going to be New Zealand,” Kohli, acknowledging Williamson’s brilliant leadership, said.

New Zealand’s current performance has been contrasting to their run in the previous edition. McCullum’s Kiwis were ruthless as they were the only unbeaten side in their group, which included the likes of Australia and England. The BlackCaps then had a breathtaking semi-final which they won on the final ball, courtesy of Grant Elliot’s six before they were thumped by Australia in the final.

On the other hand, the current BlackCaps somehow sailed into the semi-final despite some poor cricket they have played. It would be unfair if the luck factor is not considered. Yes, the Kiwis were lucky in a few ways but the way they have played in the knockout game was exceptional. A champion is all about capitalising on a gifted second chance and that’s exactly what the Kiwis have done.

One of the major reasons why Williamson’s side have not been at their best off late is the repeated failures of their openers, Martin Guptill and Colin Munro. While Munro was dropped later in the ongoing World Cup, the side has persisted with Guptill, one of the senior guys who bring an abundance of experience. From nine matches, he has scored just 167 runs at an average of 20.88. New Zealand have been devoid of good starts from this man and that has affected their overall approach in their innings.

When India lost set batsman Ravindra Jadeja in the chase, they still had MS Dhoni and the target seemed well in sight. In a desperate attempt to keep the strike, Dhoni turned for a second with Bhuvneshwar Kumar on the other end. India’s left-over hopes shattered into pieces when Dhoni was beaten by an inch at the keeper’s end by a heart-stopping direct hit from Guptill. For a batsman as talented as Guptill, it is shocking that this runout is the only significant contribution of his so far in the World Cup.

New Zealand have persisted with Guptill because he is their best fielder. He has been the second best, after Jadeja, in terms of saving runs in World Cup 2019. Ironically, Guptill was the highest run-getter in the previous World Cup and Williamson knows it is a matter of time when the explosive opener would unleash himself on the opponent.

Guptill, 32 and Taylor, 35 are well playing their final World Cup for New Zealand. The Late Martin Crowe was alive when Taylor and Guptill failed to fulfil his dream in 2015 final. The cricketing stars have given them another golden opportunity to pay back for everything Crowe had done for them in the form of a World Cup trophy.

“My precarious life ahead may not afford me the luxury of many more games to watch and enjoy. So this is likely to be it. The last, maybe, and I can happily live with that. To see the two sons I never had, Ross Taylor and Marty Guptill, run out in black, in sync with their close comrades, drawing on all their resolve and resilience, will be mesmerically satisfying. I will hold back tears all day long. I will gasp for air on occasions. I will feel like a nervous parent,” Crowe had written before the 2015 World Cup final.

It was McCullum who became the first New Zealand captain to take his side to a World Cup final. He ensured he put up an example for everything he did on the field, be it batting or fielding along with inspirational leadership skills. The moment, when Mitchell Starc rattled his stumps for a three-ball duck in 2015 final, probably still haunts the former skipper. He had joined the list of elite cricketers who walked away from the game without holding the coveted World Cup trophy.

Five players from the current New Zealand XI featured in the forgetful final in Melbourne. apart from Guptill, the others – Williamson, Taylor, Matt Henry and Trent Boult – have played a significant role regularly this tournament. While India were over-dependent on their two world-class batsmen, Kohli and Rohit Sharma and pacer Jasprit Bumrah, New Zealand had a plan designed around the entire team. They knew they had to attack, put tremendous pressure on India and the unit executed the plan beautifully.

The win against India has certainly boosted New Zealand’s confidence levels to a great extent. Be it Australia or England in the final, this Kiwi bunch will go all out at the Lord’s on July 14. For Martin Crowe, Brendon McCullum and millions of loyal BlacakCaps supporters across the globe, Kane Williamson’s side will have to bring out their A-game to fulfil the most awaited dream – the World Cup dream!

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