World Cup

Not quite David vs Goliath

Today’s trans-Tasman derby should be a contest for the ages  

Who could’ve conjured up a more engrossing conclusion to a trans-Tasman World Cup? Sunday’s final is a battle of contrasts: a side used to success and a side not; a team chasing its fifth World Cup and a team its first; a nation of 23 million and a nation of four; big brother and little brother.

In cricket, the trans-Tasman rivalry may not evoke the blood-curdling passion of India vs. Pakistan or all the historical significance of the Ashes. This is in part because Australia and New Zealand have always been unequal competitors: 126 times they have met in one-day cricket; 85 times Australia has won. Not this time, though.

Aggressive game

Under Brendon McCullum, New Zealand has broken out of its hackneyed image of being a gentle, passive team, and played cricket that has been aggressive, fearless, and magnificently thrilling. The land of the long white cloud has been swept up in the kind of euphoria previously generated only by the All Blacks, its fearsome, all-conquering rugby team.

Throughout, New Zealand’s players have spoken of this tournament as a dream, an epic journey, the greatest time of their lives.

To them this World Cup is more than a trophy; it is an enthralling pursuit of a national triumph. To watch McCullum and his colleagues at training on Saturday was to watch a group of dear friends at a weekend gathering — relaxed and happy to merely be in one another’s company.

New Zealand’s World Cup run is more than a feel-good story. The side has won every single game, central to its philosophy an attacking bowling effort. Trent Boult, in particular, and Tim Southee have been devastating with the new ball, helping New Zealand grab early wickets.

Daniel Vettori, who has found a remarkable second wind, has 15 wickets. By the 35th over, most opponents had been reduced to a point where they did not have the personnel to launch a late assault: Sri Lanka was six down, Scotland eight, Afghanistan six, and England, Australia and the West Indies all-out. Bangladesh only lost four, but in Hamilton, where the pitch was slow and flat. And then there was South Africa, which had seven wickets in hand at that stage, and required every last ounce of Kiwi energy to be overcome.

The big question, though, is how New Zealand’s bowlers will adapt to the MCG, where the ball may not swing as much as it did back in their own country. The Black Caps defeated Australia last month in Auckland, but by the narrowest of margins. That game was Australia distilled into its essence: a team that is not beaten till the last ball is bowled. There is no denying that the home side is the favourite on the occasion.

The Mitchells — Starc and Johnson — were irrepressible in the semifinals; they will be chomping at the bit again. This is a team that bats pretty deep, as India found out, and New Zealand will have to take early wickets if it is to avoid a torrent of runs.

Great tribute

Sunday’s match will also be Michael Clarke’s final One-Day International. The last few months have been emotional for him and his teammates and winning the World Cup on home soil would be a great tribute to their departed friend. New Zealand’s cricketers showed enormous empathy and understanding in the aftermath of the tragedy — they are not only neighbours but friends.

Nobody will dispute that the best two teams — not coincidentally the hosts — have reached the final. It should be a contest for the ages.

The teams (from):

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

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

Umpires: Kumar Dharmasena and Richard Kettleborough.

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Printable version | May 15, 2021 2:37:32 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/sport/cricket/world-cup/not-quite-david-vs-goliath/article7044187.ece

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