Trans-Tasman gladiators set to joust for instant cricket’s biggest prize

New Zealand has forged an impressive campaign on the back of a strong, varied bowling attack; Australia, yet to find its absolute best, has the weapons to win the big moments

November 13, 2021 10:59 pm | Updated November 15, 2021 07:24 am IST - DUBAI

New Zealand's players during a practice session at the ICC acedemy in Dubai on November 13, 2021, ahead of Twenty20 World Cup final match between Australia and New Zealand.

New Zealand's players during a practice session at the ICC acedemy in Dubai on November 13, 2021, ahead of Twenty20 World Cup final match between Australia and New Zealand.

Not many would have predicted 28 days and 44 matches ago that the trans-Tasman rivalry would set the Ring of Fire alight one final time in the bid to crown a new T20 World champion.

New Zealand has forged such a strong campaign that you would think it is the favourite in Sunday’s title clash. But Australia has earned a reputation, over the years, of knowing how to win the big moments. When it enters the knockout phase of a competition, you take it seriously.

At the Dubai International Cricket Stadium, teams chasing have won more than those forced to bat first. Earlier in the tournament, dew played a major role. However, as the weather has changed, there is less and less dew, but somehow the trend has remained intact.

The two semifinals are cases in point. Despite pursuing stiff targets, New Zealand and Australia got home with an over to spare against quality bowling attacks.

It can be argued that England did not have sufficient specialist death-bowling options and that Shaheen Shah Afridi, while lethal with the swinging white ball, is a bit of a novice at the death, but this ignores the quality of batting that got the teams across the line.

Daryl Mitchell, being used as an opener in this tournament, looked like he could not get the ball away, or into the gaps, early in his innings, but he backed himself, took the game deep and then powered his team to victory with a great flourish.

For Australia, Matthew Wade was the most unlikely hero. Aaron Finch was nailed in front before he could have a say, and David Warner, who was the powerhouse of the innings, went — without nicking the ball — before he could seal the deal. Wade, considered a specialist who could make the most of the PowerPlay overs, was now in an unfamiliar role, attempting to be a finisher. And when he was called upon to deliver, he stood tall.

For New Zealand, the strength has to be the variety and efficacy of its bowling line-up. Trent Boult bowls left-arm seam with early swing, Tim Southee is the cutter expert, Adam Milne brings pace and fire, Mitchell Santner bowls un-hittable slow left-arm and Ish Sodhi’s leg-breaks are genuine wicket-taking options.

On top of that, James Neesham can bowl a hard length, banging the ball into the pitch, giving Kane Williamson the luxury of using his bowlers however he chooses.

Australia appears to be a top-heavy batting line-up, with Finch and Warner being the building blocks. Glenn Maxwell is yet to play the kind of innings that has become his signature. Adam Zampa has given Finch control, but Mitchell Starc has not yet produced one of those bursts he’s known for.

Australia has reached the final despite not playing its best cricket. If the moving parts click into place and come together in the final, it may just be too good for New Zealand.

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