Cricket World cup 2015: New Zealand obsessed by World Cup final
New Zealand Prime Minister John Key decided not to attend Lee Kuan Yew`s funeral and left behind a bruising byelection defeat to be in Melbourne Sunday as he led his nation`s obsession with the World Cup final.
After failing six times in the semi-finals, New Zealand have finally made the ultimate showdown of ODI cricket`s glamour tournament.
Their unbeaten progress through pool and knockout stages, mixing aggression on the field with humility of it, has captivated the country en route to meeting nearest neighbours and bitter rivals Australia in the final.
A huge outpouring of accolades for the New Zealand team -- and personable captain Brendon McCullum with his "living the dream" approach -- has dominated the news.
Airlines laid on extra flights from New Zealand to Melbourne after the Black Caps` sensational semi-final victory over South Africa and all of them sold out.
Thousands of New Zealanders will be in the packed Melbourne Cricket Ground, while the rest of the nation will be glued to television sets.
In an open letter to the people of New Zealand published in the Herald on Sunday newspaper, McCullum thanked the nation "for being there with us."
"All over the country, our team has received incredible support -- and I want you to know it`s this sense of belonging that we take into the final today.
"What`s our motivation? Our motivation is to play for you.
"I`m not sure how to say this but we`ve never felt quite so `New Zealand` in all our lives."
Key said it was a tough but right call for him to go to Melbourne and have Governor General Jerry Mateparae representing New Zealand at the funeral of Lee, the first prime minister of Singapore.
"It was a difficult decision because obviously I want to go to both," Key said, adding that Mateparae, as head of state, was more senior than the prime minister.
"I think that`s the right call."
With Key focussed on cricket, it was left to senior cabinet member Stephen Joyce to handle the crushing defeat their ruling National Party suffered in a by-election on Saturday, in a seat it won with a 9,000 majority in the general election six months ago.
Bars screening the final and public fan zones around the country are expected to be packed by the time the match starts at 4:30pm New Zealand team and television channels not showing the cricket can expect limited viewership.
It is a far cry from when it was first announced New Zealand and Australia would co-host the 2015 World Cup.
It was at a time when the country was on a rugby high after the All Blacks had won the Rugby World Cup while internal bickering and a captaincy upheaval hampered on-field efforts by the cricketers.
"When we launched the tournament, it was at a time where the Black Caps weren`t the country`s most popular team. It wasn`t viewed as positively as the Rugby World Cup," New Zealand`s World Cup cricket boss Therese Walsh recalled.
But when Grant Elliott hit the six that won the semi-final and propelled New Zealand into the final with one ball to spare the nation celebrated as their team had exceeded expectations.
"It brought the country to a standstill," Walsh told Fairfax Media. "There were very few people that weren`t watching it, engaged in it, thinking about it.
"I hope the Black Caps win, but I think the whole country are so proud and they`ll want to celebrate their achievement, whatever that is. A lot of people are saying this is our best team ever and they`ve achieved something we hadn`t before."