And Then There Were Two

Come Sunday and the cricketing world will see two neighbours and rivals go head to head in their quest for the Holy Grail of cricket. The Trans-Tasman battle between Australia and New Zealand takes centre stage in Melbourne, with Australia in pursuit of their 5th title and New Zealand looking to be crowned champions for the first time.

Both opponents have striking similarities and are yet different from each other bringing different strengths and playing styles to the field.  Brendon McCullum’s brand of aggressive captaincy and swashbuckling batting has resulted in New Zealand in playing an attractive and positive style, bordering on arrogance.  Yet it is this very arrogance that has taken them all the way to the cusp of victory.  McCullum’s explosive opening at the top of the order has demolished bowling attacks throughout the tournament and Australia was not spared either, when the two teams met in the group stage.  However, he has not been the only batsman to have shouldered responsibility.  New Zealand has been the most well rounded unit of the Cup with their batting, bowling and fielding all in sync.  Kane Williamson and Martin Guptill have lent a calming influence and played the perfect sheet anchor roles to McCullum’s attacking instincts and have risen to the plate whenever required.  Grant Elliot and Corey Anderson have both gotten starts and Luke Ronchi has played the perfect finishing role.  Ross Taylor has gotten off to starts and is due for a big one.  New Zealand’s success however, has depended majorly on its bowling attack as well.  Trent Boult has been outstanding throughout, slicing through the oppositions’ top orders, well supported by Tim Southee,  Matt Henry has been drafted in as a result of the injury suffered by Adam Milne and has slotted into the team effortlessly.  Two years out of the game has not affected veteran Daniel Vettori and he will be looking to sign off on a winning note with a World Cup winner’s medal in his trophy cabinet.  New Zealand have blown away their opponents, save the group stage game against Australia and the nail biting semi-final, thus showing that they have a bit of staying power as well, a trait of true champions.

However, New Zealand has not played outside of their home grounds throughout the tournament and will be playing in Australia for the first time.  Bigger grounds and different pitch and weather conditions might affect the Black Caps, but confidence would be sky high and the players would have the self belief to handle the change.

Australia’s semi-final victory over India was a display worthy of champions.  An imperious display by the top order went unsupported by the middle order, but the depth of the Australian batting was on show with the batsmen at number 7, 8 and 9 pummelling the Indian bowlers to ensure Steven Smith’s and Aaron Finch’s platform was put to good use. The bowling attack then produced a bowling masterclass on what was a track that was a batsman’s paradise.  Mitchell Johnson seems to have regained form and Mitchell Starc continues to shine.  Josh Hazlewood and his 6’6 frame bring a new dimension to the Australian bowling line up and James Faulkner’s variations keep the batsmen guessing.  Australia does face the problem of a struggling captain.  Michael Clarke has failed to find form and Maxwell cannot be expected to carry the team through at the end in every game.  Moreover, they still face the conundrum of a fifth bowler, a problem faced by almost all teams in the tournament.  They do have the home advantage, the backing of the home crowd, familiarity of the conditions as well as the experience of playing in crunch games and have the ability to handle high pressure situations.

The Kiwis may be the only unbeaten team in the league and carry form and self belief that is sky high into the final, however all their victories have come at home on grounds that are smaller and bowlers are aided by the weather conditions.  The game at the MCG and the atmosphere shall be different from what they have faced throughout the tournament and might work against them. Fields are bigger and the MCG will have more pace, bounce and carry that will aid the seam bowlers, especially early in the game.

Australia carries with them the expectation of the home crowd, as well as the tag of 4 time champions, but also the experience and knows what it takes to win the big games.  They will also be better rested, coming off an easier semi-final.

With the weather and pitch conditions favouring the home side as well as experience on their side, the Aussies would be odds on favourites to win their 5th World Cup, but the Black Caps will play the way they’ve played throughout the World Cup, without fear.  With McCullum’s fearless captaincy and the Kiwis ticking like clockwork in all compartments, the pressure will fall squarely upon the ‘Roos to justify their tag of title favourites.  The match looks evenly poised in all departments and will most likely be decided by a special bowling performance or a gem of innings from players from either side.

Safe money would be on the Aussies, but who wouldn’t want an underdog victory? I know I do.  All shall be revealed tomorrow and may the best team win!

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