New Zealand in 2015: A glorious year speckled by stinging heartbreaks
New Zealand reached the World Cup final for the first time in 2015 © Getty Images

If New Zealand were told at the start of 2015 of all they would achieve in the year to unfold, they’d probably take it gleefully. However, they will still feel the sting of coming so close to achieving ground-breaking feats but being agonisingly denied. Nevertheless, those rare instances don’t take away from their overall performances in the year. They started 2015 midway through the series against Sri Lanka, their first match being the second Test of the series.  Also read: Yearender 2015: Playing XI of cricketers who retired from Tests.

That Test set the tone for New Zealand’s year to follow. New Zealand were under the pump after the first innings but bounced back dramatically to win the match by 193 runs and thus sealed the Test series 2-0. Kane Williamson, who was majorly responsible for New Zealand’s turnaround with his unbeaten 242, continued the year in similarly productive fashion. More: Martin Guptill: 15 interesting facts about the silent assailant.

In the seven-match One-Day International (ODI) series that followed, New Zealand took the winner’s medal with a 4-2 margin, with one match being washed out. Heading into the ICC Cricket World Cup 2015, they then played Pakistan at home in two ODIs which served as warm up for both sides. New Zealand won both and reaffirmed their status as a firm favourite to win the subsequent ICC Cricket World Cup 2015.

New Zealand’s World Cup campaign was perhaps the most awe-inspiring of all teams even though they conceded the trophy to their neighbours from across the ditch in the final. A team who would be given no chance by onlookers two years ago, produced performances that saw them beat every single team they faced in the ICC Cricket World Cup 2015, including Australia. Also read: 10 interesting stats about ‘No. 1 Test batsman’ Kane Williamson after his match-winning ton at Hamilton.

Theirs was a wholesome effort headlined by the charismatic Brendon McCullum. The team performed as a unit with every single department playing their role. Perhaps due to the overwhelming sense of making it to the final for the first time and unfamiliarity of Australian conditions — having not played an ODI there since 2009 — cost them dear as they lost the match heavily. Apart from that New Zealand was spectacular in all their games and certain electricity flowed through their matches.

Their next assignment was a series in England. It is mention-worthy that New Zealand were touted by some as favourites to win the Test series and by many to take the ODI series crown. The first Test at Lord’s saw them in driver’s seat for good portion of the game, but a brilliant riposte from Alastair Cook and Ben Stokes saw them concede the match. They came back to win the second Test at Headingley, but an opportunity for a rare away series win against England was squandered.

England, who had succumbed to a first-round defeat in the ICC Cricket World Cup 2015, were given no chance in the ODI series. However, New Zealand were the first to bear the brunt of a recharged, reborn England. The high-intensity series saw the teams tied at 2-2 going into the final game. Once again New Zealand were in command for large part of the game, but a belligerently determined Jonny Bairstow stole the game and the series away from the Kiwis, assisted on the way by a dropped catch by Mitchell Santner. Also read: Yearender 2015: Top 10 ODI innings in 2015.

New Zealand then embarked on a limited-overs tour of Africa. Qualitatively, this was not to be the most gripping series but it was significant nonetheless as New Zealand bred fresh talent and importantly Williamson got another feel of captaincy. He won the ODI series 2-1 against Zimbabwe, but were on the unfavourable end of the same score line against South Africa in the subsequent series. Youngsters like Tom Latham and George Worker got a better feel for international cricket.

The Kiwis next big series was the three-match away Test series against Australia. They were pulverised by the hosts in the first game at Gabba, but improved rapidly as the series progressed. The match at WACA was drawn. In the third game, New Zealand had the extra incentive to win, not only to level the series but to stamp their command on the first ever Day-Night Test.

Rightfully, many still believe New Zealand would have won the Test had it not been for the infamous Nigel Llong howler which turned the momentum in Australia’s favour after he gave Nathan Lyon a baffling reprieve when New Zealand were firmly in command of the Test. With only 187 to defend in the final innings, New Zealand fought hard but ultimately lost by just three wickets. Lyon’s partnership with Peter Nevill saw the addition of over 70 runs. In the low-scoring encounter one can’t help but feel that New Zealand would have won had it not been for Llong’s DRS baffler.

However all of these little heart-breaks — losing the ICC Cricket World Cup 2015 final, squandering a chance of conquering England, being denied victory by a TV umpire — were eclipsed by an announcement that came towards the end of the year. The chief architect of New Zealand’s rise, captain McCullum, announced that he was calling curtains on his international career following the on-going home series. New Zealand will miss him immensely.

In the on-going series against Sri Lanka, New Zealand took the Test series 2-0. In the course of the second game Williamson became only the second Kiwi to breach the 1,000 run mark in Tests in a single calendar year scoring his runs at an average of over 90 in 2015. They then won the first two ODIs in commanding fashion but suffered a thumping defeat in the third, thus closing a glorious year on a low note. Yet, 2015 will be remembered as a positively symbolic year in the history of New Zealand cricket.

This article first appeared at CricketCountry

(Rishad D’Souza, a reporter with CricketCountry, gave up hopes of playing Test cricket after a poor gully-cricket career. He now reports on the sport. You can follow @RDcric on Twitter)