Henry Rounce: Cricket World Cup 2019, tears and four more years

OPINION: Four years ago, on a famous cricket ground bathed in canary yellow sunshine, Mitchell Starc crushed Brendon McCullum's stumps with a searing yorker.

The pain still lingers from a delivery that sparked and slashed into the New Zealand cricket psyche like Harry Potter's scar. 

And now four years on, with a thumping wave of Ben Stokes' wand and a magical swish of the preposterous, the Blackcaps have a similar pain jabbing at their foreheads. 

The home of cricket dished up a contest like no other. It is hard, even a day on, to take in the absurdity of a World Cup final that will never be matched for the inexplicable. 

From Trent Boult's misstep on the boundary to Stokes' 'Bat of God', from Jimmy Neesham's hitting to Liam Plunkett's cross-seamers, from a tied game to a tied super over, this was a sporting occasion that made no sense. 

That it was decided on a mundane statistic was fitting - the game had tied itself in knots so often, it didn't know what it was doing and only a big pair of scissors could separate the sides with an ugly, fraying cut. 

There have rightly been questions about the technicalities of England's most significant cricketing triumph. 

Award-winning umpire Simon Taufel believes the hosts should have only received five runs - not six - when the ball dreamily ricocheted off a sprawling Stokes for a ludicrous boundary. 

Others, such as former Indian batsman Gautam Gambhir, have rubbished the boundary-countback rule that dumped the priceless trophy into England's eager hands. 

As much as New Zealand fans are desperate to find an explanation for a game that grated their nails and soured their early-morning celebrations, these are moot points. 

The game had to be split somehow - rather it be through a black-and-white statistic than the spoils shared between two sides desperate to distance themselves from one another. 

While England will soak and bask in a one-day revolution that led to the ultimate prize, New Zealand have to play their part as the valiant, plucky underdogs, who fought so hard for so little. 

No amount of praise for cricket's 'nice guys' will ease the pain of another heart-breaking final loss. So often the exponents of sportsmanship and class, this time, it was the Kiwis being comforted and helped off the deck, the taste of defeat souring the richest of cricketing soils. 

Yet what a ride it has been for a side no-one expected to make the final. Gary Stead, a methodical coach who doesn’t seem like the type of man to rock the boat, steered a cobbled mix of talent through a choppy sea. 

This will be remembered as captain Kane Williamson's tournament. With the bat, the elegant right-hander crafted his way to greatness. 

At the last World Cup, he averaged just 33.42, with a highest score of 57. Four years on, he blasted that up to 82.57, racking up back-to-back hundreds against South Africa and the West Indies. 

Kane Williamson compares notes with predecessor Brendon McCullum
Kane Williamson compares notes with predecessor Brendon McCullum. Photo credit: Photosport

He strolled out to the crease countless times inside the first five overs, ready to clean up the latest spill, whether it was oil, scalding lava or the scattered debris from a bean-bag warehouse. 

Williamson also strengthened his leadership, finally shrugging off McCullum's lingering influence on the team. This is very much a group shifted and orchestrated by the man with the distinctive rustic beard. 

Even off the field, he's developed into an articulate, insightful speaker, cracking a few dry jokes to the media. 

In his own, understated way, Williamson has guided himself into cricketing superstardom, taking his rightful place among the game's leading characters. 

Underneath his astute reading, New Zealand made it to the final with an opening combination that's been dragged and jerked like a faulty zip over the last 12 months. 

Martin Guptill's endured a tournament of persistent dystopian proportions, throwing his wicket away in an ever-changing fashion, producing an ageless throw that surgically cut out the last chapter of MS Dhoni's storied international career, before coming up short in the last ball of the final. 

Speedster Lockie Ferguson's become everyone's favourite bohemian cricketer. His dastardly good looks, passionate send-offs and iconic black shoes gave New Zealand a difference. 

All-rounders Jimmy Neesham and Colin de Grandhomme came to the fore in their distinctive ways. 

Neesham, who was close to retiring from the game, slotted back into the side with ease. He's a rare player that makes something happen - smoking a six here, nabbing a wicket there and diving for a catch-of-the-tournament contender here. 

De Grandhomme remains the ultimate mystery player - a lucky dip that gives you either a cardboard box or a six-bedroom Remuera mansion with a pool. 

Against England, he rolled and squirmed like a man lost at sea against Jofra Archer. 

A couple of hours later, he strolled out and produced a water-tight economical spell of wobbling swing and seam. 

Colin de Grandhoome claims the scalp of Joe Root
Colin de Grandhomme claims the scalp of Joe Root. Photo credit: Photosport

New Zealand grabbed for the underdog label throughout the tournament like a mum snatching a kid's hand at a road crossing. 

But as Williamson shrewdly pointed out, "anybody can beat anybody, regardless of breed of dog". 

The Blackcaps didn't have as much bite as England, yet they made sure to grab onto them and never let them go with their gnashing jaws. 

Four years ago, at a stuffed Cake Tin drizzled in sunshine, Tim Southee ripped the English to shreds with a sumptuous display of swing bowling. 

Dismantled for just 123, the eight-wicket defeat prompted a revolution for Eoin Morgan's side. They tossed aside the ashes in the Wellington breeze and burnt a new path to follow. 

Zoom forward to 2019 and the top dogs have finally been rewarded for their limited-overs renaissance. 

For the Blackcaps, this is a throat-searing pill to swallow. The Starc scar still lingers and now they have to contend with fresh super-over wounds for another cycle. 

As most New Zealand fans grabbed a desperate, rage-filled hour of sleep before work on Monday morning, it was easy to wake up and feel like this alien final was just a dream. 

Yet the hollow feeling quickly returned. It is there to stay, mixed with a wonderful sense of pride in a group that gave it their all, only to be denied in the wackiest circumstances. 

Neesham, as familiar with a humorous tweet as rolling his fingers across the seam, aptly summed it up on social media. 

"Kids, don’t take up sport. Take up baking or something. Die at 60 really fat and happy."

Sport isn't supposed to be fair. It's not guaranteed to provide fitting farewells to departing players or reward effort... or even make sense. 

New Zealand baked the best cake they could and watched on in horror, as it was taken away, because they didn't use as much chocolate as England. 

But with the collection of cooks at their disposal, sooner or later, they'll be whipping up their cake and damn well eating it too in front of the world's hungry cricketing faces.

Henry Rounce is a Newshub sports reporter.

Contact Newshub with your story tips:
news@newshub.co.nz