World Cup

Gutsy Kiwis ready for mighty Australia in summit clash

Australian captain Michael Clarke shakes hands with his New Zealand counterpart Brendon McCullum on the eve of their World Cup finals match in Melbourne.  

It will be the biggest day in the history of Trans-Tasman cricketing rivalry when four-time champions Australia will be pitted against a highly committed bunch from New Zealand in the final of the cricket World Cup at the iconic MCG in Melbourne on Sunday.

New Zealand, who has qualified for the summit clash for the first time in 11 editions, will take on Australia who not only have the highest number of world titles but also would be competing in the final for the seventh time starting from their first in 1975.

Home side captain Michael Clarke’s retirement from the ODIs after tomorrow’s grand finale will provide a touch of emotion to the Australians who will want to present a ’farewell’ gift to their inspirational skipper by lifting the trophy.

For Australia, it is a case of “been-there-and-done-that” before while for their ‘Little Brothers’, it will be an endeavour to rewrite the pages of history with one memorable performance that would leave an indelible mark.

New Zealand, despite having produced a number of world class cricketers over the years, have not tasted any big global success, their closest being in 2000 in Nairobi when they beat India in the ICC Champions Trophy.

The ‘Black Caps’ have long remained pretenders at the global showpiece event where they have played the semifinals six times but could never break the proverbial ‘last four jinx’ that had hurt them many times.

From Richard Hadlee, Glenn Turner to Martin Crowe, Stephen Fleming, New Zealand’s finest bunch of cricketers could never give themselves an opportunity to take a shot at the title.

But this current team led by Brendon McCullum has all the ingredients to bag the cricket’s ultimate prize as they have proved it with eight successive victories starting from the first match of the tournament against Sri Lanka.

New Zealand have had two close matches -- a one-wicket win in a low-scoring thriller against Australia and a high-scoring semifinal against eternal chokers South Africa.

Australia, on the other hand, had to dig deep into their reserves en route their final. They were beaten once (vs New Zealand), had their match against Bangladesh washed out and recorded a wobbly win against Pakistan in the quarterfinals.

However, they put all the creeping doubts to rest with a crushing victory against a pretty formidable Indian side in the semifinals.

On paper, Australia will certainly be the favourites going into the final. Player-to-player, Australia would be slightly ahead in most of the departments but more importantly have won their matches on the big Australian grounds, which has not been the case with New Zealand, whose successes have come on the relatively smaller grounds.

The ‘X-Factor’ on Sunday could be Daniel Vettori -- one of the finest exponents of left-arm spin bowling. Summoned for national duty from a hiatus, Vettori has been that binding factor in the Black Caps’ line-up which has helped them match after match.

An economy rate of under four (3.98) through eight matches with 15 wickets, Vettori has done his job silently after left-arm seamer Trent Boult (21 wickets) and Tim Southee (15 wickets) have done the initial job.

Similarly, the ‘Game Changer’ for Australia could be young Steve Smith, who has already announced his arrival on big stage with some brilliant performances, including the century in semifinal against India. With 346 runs from seven matches, he is currently topping the run-charts for the hosts.

The advantage New Zealand has is their skipper McCullum’s good form compared to his counterpart Clarke’s patchy form in the tournament.

On big days, the team looks towards its leaders to perform. Clive Lloyd showed that in 1975, Imran Khan in 1992, Ricky Ponting in 2003 and none other than Mahendra Singh Dhoni on that delightful April night, four years back in 2011.

It will be a big day for both McCullum and retiring Clarke, who would like to lead from the front in his final ODI. But the confidence with which Black Caps have performed in the tournament under inspirational McCullum should give their ardent fans hope of something special tomorrow.

If McCullum tees off in his customary fashion, the extremely wily Mitchell Starc (20 wickets) and disciplined Josh Hazlewood would then be required to revisit their plans as the man from Canterbury can destroy any attack on a given day.

He will have Martin Guptill for company, who has scored a punishing double hundred against West Indies in the quarterfinals. Guptill, with 532 runs, is on his way towards becoming the highest run-scorer in the tournament.

New Zealand also has those useful all-rounders like Grant Elliott, who won the semifinal for them, or Corey Anderson, the powerful hitter, who has the ability to clear the MCG fence with ease.

Australia also has a number of performers. Openers David Warner and Aaron Finch would like to perform on the big day.

Similarly, Glenn Maxwell would like show what he is capable of against the swing of Matt Henry and guile of Vettori.

Vettori versus Maxwell could be one of the most interesting contests as the Australian is known to hit some audacious shots. It did not pay off for Maxwell against Ravichandran Ashwin and if he is not discreet, it might not also pay off against Vettori.

Australia certainly hold the advantage at the MCG but any side can write New Zealand off at their own peril.

The Teams (From):

Australia: Michael Clarke (captain), David Warner, Aaron Finch, Steve Smith, Glenn Maxwell, Brad Haddin (wk), Shane Watson, James Faulkner, Josh Hazlewood, Mitchell Starc, Mitchell Johnson, Xavier Doherty, Pat Cummins, George Bailey, Mitchell Marsh

New Zealand: Brendon McCullum (captain), Martin Guptill, Kane Williamson, Ross Taylor, Corey Anderson, Grant Elliott, Luke Ronchi (wk), Daniel Vettori, Trent Boult, Tim Southee, Matt Henry, Kyle Mills, Nathan McCullum, Mitchell McClenaghan, Tom Latham.

Umpires: Kumar Dharmasena and Richard Kettleborough.

Match Referee: Ranjan Madugalle

Match Starts: 9 am (IST).

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Printable version | Jun 12, 2021 8:40:25 PM |

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