New Zealand aim to make the most of fighting chance

Joint hosts face each other in World Cup final

Australia’s batsman Steve Smith acknowledges the crowd after scoring his century during his Cricket World Cup semi-final match against India. Photograph: Reuters

Australia’s batsman Steve Smith acknowledges the crowd after scoring his century during his Cricket World Cup semi-final match against India. Photograph: Reuters

 

For the second successive World Cup the joint hosts will contest the final. Australia against New Zealand, a final of which the organisers might have dreamed once the commercial imperative of India was out of the equation.

Whether it is cricket, or both rugby codes, or indeed any form of competition, there is no stronger rivalry in sport, much as the English like to revere the Ashes. These are the two best teams in the 2015 competition, the one unbeaten, the other beaten only by their final opponents in one of the matches of the tournament. Both are playing cricket in a style that has resurrected the ODI format to one in which the thunder of T20 is incorporated into the terrific narrative that is largely absent from the shortest format.

A dispassionate assessment (not easy for an unashamed Kiwi-ophile, who regards the country as a second home) would say this ought to be Australia’s match. That they have an outstanding team from top to bottom, with destructive batsmen and quality pace bowling, goes without saying. This is Australia’s seventh final and they are seeking to win the title for the fourth time in five World Cups. Unlike their opponents, they are not heading into uncharted waters.

Then there is Melbourne Cricket Ground to factor in. Since the last World Cup, Australia have won seven of the eight games they have played there. They know it, and its vagaries, rather well. It will be interesting to see whether the organisers’ predictions of a record crowd of more than 91,000 materialises.

Realms of the intangible

Auckland

So New Zealand cannot be discounted. In other semi-finals they had been plucky underdogs, but not now. They have a team that has been carefully constructed.

McCullum is without question the most accomplished captain in world cricket. He is superbly briefed, but proactive with it. His brain never takes a breather. He attacks constantly. His players draw strength from his example.

This is a mighty Australia team though, swaggering, confident, well-led, and staggeringly well-balanced, with a thumping top order and a young batsman in Steve Smith who is reeling off centuries as if shelling peas. The pace bowling is superior to that of New Zealand, with three left-armers in the Mitchells, Johnson and Starc, and Faulkner; and the excellent Josh Hazlewood.

Man for man, on paper at least, the Australians have the superior side. If both teams play at their maximum, Australia will win. Games are not played on paper though. New Zealand have more than a fighting chance. What would a cricket and rugby World Cup double do for the sporting prestige of a small nation?– Guardian Service

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