Cricket World Cup: The six balls that blew away the Kiwis

LIFE can get pretty tough when you're a talisman and you're having one of those days when you just can't "talis".

So it was with New Zealand's captain Brendon McCullum, who didn't so much fluff his lines on the biggest day of his cricketing life as he had the script ripped from sweaty palms by a two-metre giant enjoying the form of his life.

At the risk of subjecting you to a sports reportage root canal, it is worth reliving that first Mitchell Starc over in detail as it was awfully emblematic of the top-order struggles to come.

Ball one: Guptill takes strike, as he always does. Starc paws at the turf on the 30m circle.

More worryingly for the batsman, wicketkeeper Brad Haddin takes up residence close to the 30m circle at the opposite end, as strong a piece of evidence as any that Starc has great rhythm in this tournament. He lopes in and delivers a 148km/h settler outside off stump, which Guptill gratefully lets go.

Ball two: Just short of length, so the swing is negated. Guptill rides the bounce all the way down to third man for a nerve-settling single.

Ball three: McCullum is on strike. He cut a remarkably relaxed figure during the morning and is unlikely to have given a second thought to the local papers that are proclaiming him the key wicket, the man standing between Australia and a coronation.

McCullum murders the ground with his blade, hunches down in preparation and is beaten all ends up by a 150km/h inswinging yorker that defeats off stump by a couple of inches. You can see almost Starc grow a bit taller.

Ball four: McCullum digs another trench in the wicket, grips the handle like an axe and makes himself low again. He's going to charge and Starc knows it. McCullum goes down the wicket and away to leg.

The ball swings prodigiously and follows him, again beating him for speed and swing. It comfortably misses the leg pole but, more importantly, comfortably misses the skipper's bat. For a man who plays with lightning fast hands and a wonderful eye, this must be a little discombobulating.

Ball five: Is it unplayable, or has McCullum's mind been muddled? Whatever the case, it's an absolute ripper of a yorker that bends back and beats what, by McCullum's standards, is a half-baked drive.

It sends Starc on an arcing run and a good portion of the MCG into delirium. It would have reverberated through the New Zealand shed. McCullum, as has been discussed before, is a luxury item.

His failure is planned for, but it was the manner of his domination that set the nerves on edge. As strange as it sounds, a horrible skied catch to cover would have been more in keeping with how New Zealand have gone about their business.

Ball six: Kane Williamson, for the first time all summer searching for runs, is asked to steady the ship. Starc thunders one into his pads and stifles an appeal. It is swinging too much. New Zealand 1-1 after 1, and it felt like an emergency call out, too.

It is worth remembering that McCullum won the toss and chose to bat. Even the inherently pessimistic knew it was the right thing to do. Within six Starc thunderbolts, amazingly, it suddenly looked like very much the wrong thing to do.

New Zealand, so often at this tournament, have won games by setting a tone that other teams cannot live with. McCullum, more than any other player whether it was with bat or field placings, was the man responsible for that.

Starc ripped that away from him, away from New Zealand. Grant Elliott and Ross Taylor did their best to restore some equilibrium but, by that stage, a massive score was out of the question.

Starc's first over was brilliant, it was brutal. He was, damn it, talismanic.



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