New Zealand Will Find It Tough To Slip Past Australia In Big Final
Just another game? Australia and New Zealand may get to the park on Sunday with preparation to suggest that they would be approaching their newest battle as just another game. But they need no reminding that this time, unlike in any of their 126 ODI earlier meetings, there is a little reward that awaits the winners the ICC Cricket World Cup, no less.
On Saturday, the co-hosts prepared for the big day like they would for any other game, not wanting the occasion or the venue to leave them awe-struck. New Zealand paid attention to detail with bowling coach Shane Bond spending time surveying the expansive outfield from a bowler's perspective. Australia turned up in full force on a day of optional practice.
The absence of needle, with the teams not being at loggerheads, and the presence of enormous respect for one another's combative skills should not be misconstrued as a lack of intent on either side. They are both capable of launching spectacular assaults, with their captains unwilling to take their feet off the pedal.
The teams are equally hungry. They are blessed with explosive batsmen and others who can ensure that the power hitters come in at the appropriate times; they have quality fast bowlers and are terrific fielding sides; New Zealand have cricket's shrewdest left-arm spinner, Daniel Vettori to support pace bowlers while Australia rely on Glenn Maxwell to fill up as fifth bowler.
Given that, it will be tempting to sit on the wall and say that the team which plays the better cricket on Sunday will emerge the winner of the World Cup. But while one should not write off McCullum's New Zealand especially because of his sharp captaincy they will find it tough to slip past the home team.
Of course, New Zealand are the only unbeaten squad in the World Cup so far, playing an attacking brand of cricket. What's more, they are the only side that has inflicted a defeat on the world's top ODI team in the World Cup, a thrilling one-wicket victory in a Group A league game in Auckland. But that match was all about great bowling, swing, seam and fast.
The MCG deck is the sort which demands great discipline from the batsmen and greater discipline from the bowlers. Australia, who have constantly summoned World Cup winning legends like Steve Waugh and Adam Gilchrist to chat with the team, can be expected to use their knowledge of MCG to keep their nose ahead of the Black Caps.
New Zealand have not an ODI played in Australia in five years but they will remember that the last time a Black Caps team beat the home side, the game had been played at MCG. As many as seven players in the current squad were part of that team that made light of the fact they were playing on a larger ground than any in their own nation.
Yet, if Australia have been installed as favourites and New Zealand been labelled the underdogs, it is only because the Black Caps have played all their eight World Cup games so far at home. It is the first time they have flown into Australia. How well they adapt to that challenge will determine if they can continue punching like they have done so far.
For all that, if the teams dish out a high quality contest in keeping with the stature of the World Cup final, fans around the globe will add more memories to add to the rich collection from limited-over cricket's biggest event. Australia and New Zealand have the potential to ensure that fans do not remember the game as just another ODI game.
Australia (from): Michael Clarke (captain), Aaron Finch, David Warner, Steve Smith, Shane Watson, Glenn Maxwell, Brad Haddin (wicket-keeper), James Faulkner, Mitchell Johnson, Mitchell Starc, Josh Hazlewood, George Bailey, Mitchell Marsh, Xavier Doherty and Pat Cummins.
New Zealand (from): Brendon McCullum (captain), Martin Guptill, Kane Williamson, Ross Taylor, Grant Elliott, Corey Anderson, Luke Ronchi (wicket-keeper), Daniel Vettori, Trent Boult, Matt Henry, Tim Southee, Tom Latham, Mitchell McGlenaghan, Nathan McCullum and Kyle Mills.