Australia vs New Zealand | Sunday 29 March | Melbourne | 05:30
And then there were two. A long and gruelling World Cup campaign comes to an end in Melbourne on Sunday with a poetic Trans-Tasman finale. Australia and New Zealand could not have scripted a better tournament, with their bitter rivalry given the opportunity to express itself on the biggest stage of them all. The Black Caps can expect a hostile welcome to the 90,000 seater MCG, especially considering the prospect of revenge. New Zealand downed Australia in the group stages at Eden Park but will be forced to adjust from some of the shortest boundaries in the game to some of the longest. In typical gritty Brendon McCullum fashion, they’ll approach the biggest match of their careers without the burden of fear and an absolutely scintillating contest is expected to end perhaps the most electrifying World Cup in history.
To Win Match
New Zealand 18/10
The pre-tournament favourites booked their rightful place in the 2015 Cricket World Cup final with a win that eclipsed the record for the highest margin of victory in a semi-final. Defending champions India were on the receiving end of a strong and measured Australian performance. Although India kept themselves in the contest through admirable passages of play, the Australians dictated the majority of the match and found a way thwart MS Dhoni’s best one-day calculations. The win, however, will mean little without a trophy to show for it. The Australians have won all of their matches in the tournament aside from their clash with the Black Caps. Captain Michael Clarke pinpointed the loss in the group stages as the “kick up the backside” the team needed and identifies it as the turning point of Australia’s campaign. One feels that if the Australian side play somewhere near their best on Sunday, New Zealand will be helpless in preventing defeat.
The range and depth of Australia’s batting line-up is perfectly suited to the vagaries of the contemporary one-day game. If South Africa’s batting line-up is a thing of beauty, then Australia’s constitutes the beast. Warner and Finch form a mighty opening partnership, both having the capacity to destroy a bowling attack in a matter of overs or over the course of the whole innings. They are followed by Steve Smith, an unflappable player that is surely in line for ICC awards given his average of 67.75 in his last seventeen ODIs. That is notwithstanding his dominance in the Test arena. The middle-order is then given the licence to morph depending on the match situation. Clarke can walk to the wicket to stabilise, Maxwell to pulverise; Watson can do both. Brad Haddin, James Faulkner and Mitchell Johnson can all clear the rope not only effectively, but with venom. That’s batting all the way down to nine - Mitchell Starc would probably feel his long handle deserves a mention as well.
Australia’s bowling attack covers all of the bases, except one. Australia possess two gifted left-arm speedsters in Mitchell Johnson and Starc, while Hazlewood is no slouch and has a sort of Glenn McGrath feel to applying pressure and keeping to strict lines. In Faulkner and Watson they have seam variation, the former in particular a canny character with the ball. Maxwell takes up the spin duties and is the one weakness the Black Caps could perhaps exploit. However, Maxwell is generally very tight and does not offer easy scoring options. It seems clear that Australia did not come close to their potential in the group stage in Auckland and indeed, almost exacted a horrid Black Caps collapse to take the match with the stakes much, much lower.
For all of New Zealand’s nerveless and explosive batting, it is in fact the bowling department that has performed most consistently for the Kiwis. Trent Boult is the top destroyer in the tournament with 21 scalps but will be well aware that Australia’s Starc in only one wicket behind. The swing under control that Boult has generated so far in this tournament begs the question as to why he had only played sixteen ODIs prior to the World Cup. However, his exploits have all played out in home conditions. His first trip to the MCG could undo a lot of hard work should he get things wrong. In fact, the whole side will be forced to adapt and at the most crucial point in the tournament. The drop-in pitch and larger than life ground dimensions will both prove hurdles that the Black Caps will be forced to navigate.
New Zealand are the only side to have not conceded 300+ runs in an innings, though it must be noted that that was set to end if not for rain in their semi-final against South Africa. Getting the ball to swing, they destroyed Australia’s much vaunted batting line-up when the sides faced off in Auckland. Much is often made of the opening pairing of Boult and Tim Southee, but veteran Daniel Vettori - who is set to retire after this match - has been every bit as important. He has been economical on small grounds, has picked up wickets and was the catalyst in Australia’s collapse. He will also prove tough to hit for boundaries on the vast expanse of the MCG. Many of the Black Caps have experienced the stadium to some degree. The last time they faced Australia in an ODI at the ground, Grant Elliott guided them to victory in much the same fashion as the semi-final.
But a description of New Zealand coming into this match would not be complete with a mention of their batting exploits. Kane Williamson hit a six under pressure to gift them the win over Australia, Elliott did the same against South Africa. Brendon McCullum has played as though in a reduced T20 encounter and recorded the World Cup’s fastest fifty off eighteen balls. Martin Guptill marched to the highest score in a World Cup by blasting 237* against West Indies in the quarter-final. The firepower and know-how is there. But do New Zealand have the composure?
As mentioned, the MCG is a gigantic stadium with some of the longest boundaries on offer the world over. Not many sixes are hit at the ground and it has also conceded the most threes in the World Cup so far. Australia are true masters at this historic ground and New Zealand simply do not have the wealth of experience at their disposal, nor the crowd on their side.
VERDICT: Australia 4/10
It would take a very brave punter to bet on Australia losing to New Zealand twice in the same tournament. The rivalry is fierce, the strategy aggressive and explosive on both sides and the talent present in both line-ups. But Australia possess the extra gear, the ability to drag themselves out of situations that look lost. The flurry of late New Zealand wickets in Auckland bears testament to not only Australia’s ability to fight their way out of trouble but also New Zealand’s feeling of inferiority. When on the brink of victory against their most despised opposition, they very nearly crumbled. I’m betting that they will this time around.