Sport can provide some of life’s most memorable moments, whether that be through the joy of victory or the heartache of defeat. It’s been quite the sporting summer for the natives of New Zealand, seeing their country reach the final of both the Cricket and Netball World Cups in the space of just eight days.
In both triumph and heartbreak, this small but beautiful country has won the support of the sporting world. Take a look at why New Zealand has been at the forefront of sport’s most recent fine margins.
Cricket World Cup
New Zealand v England – defeat
On Sunday 14th July, as the New Zealand team made their way to Lord’s, captain Kane Williamson and his side had no idea what they were about to participate in. One of history’s greatest ever cricket matches awaited them.
Winning the toss and electing to bat first, a first half-century of the tournament for Henry Nicholls helped New Zealand reach a total of 241/8 from their 50 overs. Opinion was mixed as to how well New Zealand had batted, with many feeling it was slightly below par.
Opinion soon changed in the 24th over; England found themselves at just 86/4 with the Black Caps’ bowlers effectively removing the English top order. As a fifth wicket century partnership between Ben Stokes and Jos Buttler got their team back in the game, England still found themselves needing 46 runs off the final 30 deliveries.
With an over remaining, all eyes were on New Zealand’s Trent Boult and England’s Ben Stokes. Just 15 runs stood in the way of an England win. A huge six left England needing 9 from the remaining 3 balls.
Then one of the rarest occurrences on a cricket field left the game on a knife edge. Making his way back to the ‘striker’s’ end to secure a second run, Stokes dived with his bat and struck the ball, causing it to roll to the boundary, which gifted England with another six runs. England now needed 3 from 2. Despite attempting two runs on both occasions, England scored one run off each of the final 2 balls.
In the words of Ian Smith, ‘We’re going to a super over!’
The atmosphere became electric. With a packed Lord’s and millions watching around the world, people frantically searched to find out exactly what a super over was. Man of the match Ben Stokes and Jos Buttler posted 15 for England, which meant Jofra Archer had to keep New Zealand below 16 to win the World Cup. More twists and turns and a last ball run out meant that England secured victory.
New Zealand, for the second World Cup in a row, were beaten finalists…
The admirable Kane Williamson, already one of the most respected players in the game, earned even more admirers as he epitomised the New Zealand spirit. Let’s face it, accepting defeat so graciously is not a common occurrence, regardless of winning player of the tournament.
Other teams may have bemoaned their bad luck and searched for excuses as to why they lost. Not New Zealand. The Black Caps players spent time with their opposition after the game, where they could all appreciate they were part of arguably the greatest cricket match ever played.
Netball World Cup
New Zealand v Australia – victory
Just six days later, on 20th July, New Zealand got their revenge over England in the Netball World Cup semi-final. A tight game with the lead changing hands saw New Zealand eventually see the game out with a 47-45 victory. This set up a final against Australia, which would be a repeat of the previous final four years before.
From the other side of the world, New Zealand fans began to hope that it wouldn’t be a double of back-to-back World Cup final losses.
Led by coach Noeline Taurua, the Silver Ferns took to the court to face their old adversaries: Australia. Having played against each other earlier in the tournament, a repeat of the previous final four years was sure to be a tense occasion. Many felt that Australia had the edge, having had the chance to rest some players in their semi-final against South Africa.
As the time reached 16:45 in Liverpool, millions of people across the globe were ready. With the first centre pass, the game was underway!
The teams found themselves level after the first quarter with ten points each. A cocktail of nerves, excitement and hope was there for all to see. Both teams had 45 minutes to achieve glory. New Zealand made their mark in the second and third quarter, leaving them 4 points ahead with 15 minutes to play.
Narrowly losing in their previous encounter, New Zealand knew it wasn’t over. Within 90 seconds of the final quarter, Australia had closed the gap to 1 point, having scored on 3 successive occasions.
Surely it couldn’t happen to them again, could it?
Captain Laura Langman and her side had to dig deep. The defensive organisation of the Silver Ferns saw Casey Kopua and Jane Watson manage to shut out the Australians on several occasions. When Caitlin Bassett brought Australia within 1 point, with 51 seconds still on the clock, the atmosphere was electric. Yet again, sport had captivated its audience.
New Zealand showed no signs of giving up. Great courage was needed to keep the ball, and New Zealand’s fighting spirit showed once more. Then it finally happened, the 7 days of hurt from the country’s previous World Cup final was washed away with the joy of the netball.
The trophy was New Zealand’s!
Often when a tournament’s been so fantastic, the final can be a bit of an anti-climax; as we saw with this year’s Champions League final. It’s rare to see such close and enthralling sporting contests like these. So to see two mesmerising finals in the space of a week is mind-blowing – and New Zealand participated in both!
Within a week, New Zealand had lost and won by the finest of margins. I guess that’s why sport is so incredible; it evokes emotions that nothing else can. The most exciting thing for New Zealand is their strongest sport is yet to come, as the All Blacks head to Japan for the Rugby World Cup in September. Whether it’s heartbreak or triumph for Steve Hansen’s side, 2019 has been a year that New Zealand sports fans will never forget.