In the Cricket World Cup, at Dunedin
New Zealand (146/7 in 24.2 overs) beat Scotland (142/10 in 36.2 overs) by three wickets
One of the points of a world cup is that developing teams have a chance to test themselves against the big guns during the pool stages. These are the “banana skin” games for the favoured teams, when they can slip and look stupid. Think of Tonga beating France in the 2011 Rugby World Cup. Or Ireland beating Pakistan at the Cricket World Cup in 2007, and England in 2011, and the West Indies on Monday.
Thankfully the Black Caps avoided their own banana skin on Tuesday in Dunedin, but not before we all had a sharp intake of breath.
New Zealand coach Mike Hesson reckons we all need to take a chill pill after the Black Caps’ “untidy” batting effort to run down Scotland. His argument is that “It’s crucial where we finish [in the pool] to ensure we rank high for the quarter-finals”, so getting to the target in fewer overs was crucial for a better run rate. Never mind losing wickets.
I beg to differ.
Not, I hasten to add, because I know more about cricket than Mr Hesson. I don’t.
But, as I have said many times before, I was in Cardiff on 6 October 2007. That was the day that the All Blacks got ahead of themselves and didn’t play the French team that was in front of them. As a result, we all got to go home early and Lord Ted had to sit on the naughty step until 23 October 2011.
Tournament competitions are different from league competitions. To win a tournament, you are going to have to go through the knockout stages unbeaten. Get your head around that brutal fact early on and never deviate.
Quarter-final, semi-final, grand final: you’ll have to beat who ever is in front of you on the day. Don’t kid yourself that there is an “easier” route through those three games. There isn’t. Every team in the last eight/four/two has a chance if they play to their potential and the other side doesn’t.
That being the case, play with the right mindset all the way through the pool stage. It’s good practice.
Seven New Zealand batsmen in Dunedin did not play what was in front of them. They played thinking about some hypothetical future game. There’s the worry.
There’s the hint of a smell of a suggestion that there’s a nagging doubt in the backs of their minds about their real objective in this tournament. That simply being in a semi, or maybe the final, will be “good enough”.
Uh uh. Focus on the prize. Believe in your own ability to go all the way against any opponent. Focus only on what is in front of you.