“Just be yourself and try and enjoy what you do” – those were Kane Williamson’s final words at the end of a tournament that saw his side come heartbreakingly, desperately, close to winning their first World Cup.
In a game of fine margins, everything seemed to go against New Zealand as they were edged out by England in a thriller at Lord’s.
If Trent Boult doesn’t take an extra step back as he gets underneath a chance from Ben Stokes, then the England all-rounder is out. Instead, it’s six.
If Jason Roy is given out to the first ball of England’s chase, then the hosts are 0-1 and the crowd are becalmed. Instead, he survives.
If Stokes doesn’t accidentally thrust his bat in the way of a throw from Martin Guptill, England need seven from two balls, and are seriously up against it.
Instead, it goes for six –correctly or not– and we end up in a super over that England win because they scored more boundaries.
Luck… sometimes it’s there, sometimes it isn’t.
- High fives and autograph hunters – ‘England’s intimate celebration perfect for its time’
- The champagne super over – a very English way to win a World Cup
- A perfect day gives cricket an amazing platform – Agnew
New Zealand were unlucky at Lord’s, which makes a change from the other label beginning with ‘u’ they usually get – underdogs.
Williamson had a wry grin when this standard tag was suggested to him on the eve of the final, and also the perfect response: “I think anybody can beat anybody, regardless of what breed of dog they are.”
Going into the semi-finals, New Zealand were the least-fancied side. They qualified despite heavy losses in their final three group matches, including a battering against England.
They were the team India or Australia would want to face, went the whispers. They were done – a soft landing in the tournament had helped them, and they’d be on the plane home by the end of the week.
But that is not what this group of players are about.
In Williamson, they have one of the best batsmen in world cricket, and a clever captain. Need seven runs from the final over to win a match? Williamson will hit a six to get them within touching distance.
He is softly spoken but he commands attention. When he brings the team together in a huddle, all eyes are on him. When bowlers are taking a hammering, he goes to them, offering a word of advice.
On Sunday, as the players waited for the presentation to begin, an official walked over to Williamson and told him he had been named the man of the tournament.
He looked shocked. “Me?!” he mouthed, before looking around him, slightly lost for words. To say he is a nice guy feels like an understatement.
This is a close-knit team, full of men with a lot of respect for each another as well as their opponents.
A lot of the players have come through youth-group teams together. They are ‘tight’ – Tim Southee was groomsman at fellow bowler Boult’s wedding, while Jimmy Neesham barely goes a day without ridiculing himself or his team-mates on Twitter.
Their families have travelled with them for the majority of the tournament.
After the Old Trafford semi-final they joined the players on the outfield; parents dishing out hugs and players having a mini game of cricket with kids running around in replica shirts.
One game later, the after-match scenes were not so dreamy.
The loss at Lord’s was heartbreaking. Of course it was. They had their fingertips on the trophy and they were prised off it in an agonising manner.
It is pain no-one could reasonably suggest the attitude and demeanour of this team deserves.
Four years ago New Zealand edged out South Africa in another World Cup thriller, this time in a semi-final.
Grant Elliott struck a six to take New Zealand to within sight of victory and raised his arms aloft in celebration when it was confirmed.
But a second later he was next to Dale Steyn, the devastated bowler, offering a hand to help him up from the ground and offer some commiseration.
Ross Taylor did the same to Carlos Brathwaite at Old Trafford during the group stages.
After the loss at Lord’s, Williamson was full of praise for England. He and his team were visibly devastated – but there was no hint of bitterness. No suggestion of unfairness.
Just a smile, a handshake, and some calm words from Williamson.
As he left his news conference for the final time, he was given a round of applause by the journalists.
He, and his side, are a credit to the game.