New Zealand and the time of their lives
cricbuzz 2015-09-18 03:54

"Another turning point
A fork stuck in the road
Time grabs you by the wrist
Directs you where to go."

In late 2012, Brendon McCullum was named captain in all formats after Ross Taylor stepped aside in an ugly time for New Zealand cricket. He had been captain before but this was the real deal, the long-term appointment, a leap of faith. This was a rocky passage, with much insecurity. New Zealand needed inspiration. McCullum had been viewed in some quarters as brash, cocky, unfit to lead. But under him, the team started to turn a corner. They were being led in a new direction.

They won Test series against India, West Indies, Sri Lanka and drew with Pakistan in the UAE. The won ODI series home and away. Along the way, McCullum saw sparks that led him to believe he was on to something special with this team. As wins were ticked off, expectancy grew over the New Zealand cricket team at the World Cup. They went into the tournament looking very good, and some experts viewed them as the best side from the country to contest a World Cup. This was what it would all boil down to - success at a tournament they had never won. Could McCullum's team cope with the pressure?

"So make the best of this test
And don't ask why
It's not a question
But a lesson learned in time."

Starting from Valentine's Day in Christchurch, they won six matches in a row to qualify for the quarter-finals unbeaten. New Zealanders were uplifted. They soared, they expected, they hoped. That their team was able to produce results was credit to a work ethic instilled by McCullum, who epitomises an evolving New Zealand side, and his faith in players who commit themselves brilliantly. They have been a different side since McCullum was appointed captain. All that has transpired since then is reason for New Zealand's enhanced stature as a one-day and Test team.

McCullum, throughout the tournament, implored his men to embrace what they will look back on as the time of their lives. He led them brilliantly, with his head, in the field and with the bat. The players responded brilliantly, barring the final against a superb, ruthless Australia. They lost the big prize, but captured hearts and imaginations as they worked up a sandstorm.

"So take the photographs
And still frames in your mind
Hang it on a shelf
In good health and good time.

It's something unpredictable
But in the end it's right
I hope you had the time of your life."

The athletic young couple who broke into applause at the back of Air New Zealand flight 125 at the sight of Martin Guptill walking down the aisle, they had the time of their lives. The various pilots who welcomed the Black Caps onto their flights over the PA system before letting passengers know the mandatory safety instructions, they had the time of their lives. The middle-aged lady who took a photograph with McCullum at the Auckland airport, and whom McCullum gently thanked for her support, she had the time of her life.

The young boy in a McCullum jersey who swung an oversized bat at a tennis ball inside the gates at Westpac Stadium during the dinner break, he will one day look back at this tournament as the days of his life. The volunteer at Hagley Park who on a blisteringly windy day beamed as she held open a door when Kane Williamson lugged his kit bag through, she had the time of her life. The university student from Christchurch, hoping to become a sports reporter one day, who travelled to Auckland for the semi-final, he had the time of her life.

"It's something unpredictable
But in the end it's right
I hope you had the time of your life."

The diligent scorer at Eden Park who flopped back in his seat after Grant Elliott hit the winning six against South Africa, he had the time of his life. The 40,000 spectators who leapt up in uninhibited joy, they had the time of their lives. The members of the tournament's management who kicked off their shoes and played an impromptu under-arm cricket match on the Eden Park pitch hours after that epic semi-final, they had the time of their lives.

The men in the Shakespeare pub on Albert Street in Auckland, sipping beer while discussing Elliott's batting, they had the time of their lives. The Kiwi backpackers who sang their way through a drunken Melbourne night, they had the time of their lives.

The dejected man in a 1992 replica New Zealand jersey, sitting alone at a McDonalds at 1:30 in the morning, his head dropping over his knees, he had the time of his life. A few minutes later, the travelling Black Caps supporter in a motel elevator who groaned as an Australia supporter in yellow got on at the third floor, he had the time of his life. All those fans back in New Zealand who woke up the morning after the MCG defeat and read the newspapers, they had the time of their lives.

"Tattoos of memories
And dead skin on trial
For what it's worth
It was worth all the while."

An ailing Martin Crowe, who two days before the World Cup final wrote emotional letter to McCullum's team in which he termed Ross Taylor and Martin Guptill as "the two sons I never had", was along for the ride and had the time of his life. He came to Melbourne to watch his team try and beat Australia at their first World Cup final. Twenty-three years ago, an innovative Crowe had taken New Zealand to the semi-finals at home, only to end up defeated.

"I will hold back tears all day long. I will gasp for air on occasions. I will feel like a nervous parent. Whatever happens, March 29 at the MCG will be the most divine fun ever," wrote Crowe in his heartfelt letter.

A few moments before Steven Smith hit the winning runs in the final, Crowe walked into the MCG press box. He came up near the glass windows, laid a tired hand on the wall. He looked to his right, then to his left, maybe looking for a familiar face in the crowd of reporters. Maybe he found it, maybe he didn't. Weary, he turned and walked away, his eyes moist. He could not hold back the tears any longer. He had the time of his life, thanks to McCullum's men.

It really was the most divine fun ever, watching this team soar to the summit. In rugby-crazed New Zealand, they will no longer look down at cricket, thanks to a historic journey that, despite the heartbreak of the MCG, now arguably earns top-shelf status as the biggest story in New Zealand cricket history. It was, as McCullum has been stressing on, the time of their lives.
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