Advantage Aussies in title clash

Injury-hit New Zealand will not be pushovers after scalping Pakistan in semifinal

Advantage Aussies in title clash

 Daniel Vettori and Ricky Ponting with the Champions Trophy on the eve of the final. AP

Australia and New Zealand, far removed from the rest of the world and seemingly in a world of their own, haven’t always done battle on an equal footing; the Kiwis, however, have compensated for lack in flair and pool-size with a sense of purpose and focus that must make them the greatest over-achievers in the cricketing world.

It’s not as if the Kiwis have a cupboard brimful of significant silverware. Indeed, as opposed to Australia who have swept all before them on the back of their supreme talent and underlying hunger, New Zealand have a lone trophy to boast, the ICC Knockout Trophy grabbed in Nairobi in 2000.

Australia are the defending Champions Trophy winners, haven’t lost a game in this tournament and appear to have found the upwardly mobile climb at just the right time. New Zealand, on the other hand, are on a three-match winning streak, emphatically casting aside their string of last-four losses with a superbly crafted semifinal triumph over Pakistan on Saturday.

At SuperSport Park on Monday, when two weeks of action culminates in the grand final, Australia’s familiarity with the big stage will come face to face with New Zealand’s belief and desire as the Champions Trophy waits to crown its first repeat winner.

If it isn’t quite the irresistible force against the immovable object, it’s largely because New Zealand have been forced to move things around because of the litany of injuries that has swept through their camp like the plague. In times gone by, it could comfortably have been said that man for man, Australia were the superior outfit; the changing face of Australian cricket, with several legends of the game having called it quits, makes this a more even contest even if New Zealand will be minus several vital components.

That Australia have played their last three games at Centurion, and New Zealand’s lone venture at this venue in this competition ended in defeat at the hands of South Africa, might count for something on a stage where teams look for confidence-deriving tools. Saying that, neither side will be short on confidence following their semifinal triumphs which revolved around their inspirational captains.

With ball, and then more crucially with bat, Daniel Vettori’s contributions in the Kiwis’ five-wicket win over Pakistan can hardly be exaggerated. Over the years, the left-hander has come to provide the dependability, reliability and stoicism not necessarily always associated with New Zealand cricket.

Like Ricky Ponting, Vettori loves to lead by example, and he does so without fuss. By promoting himself to number six at a crunch situation in the semis, Vettori’s subtle message was that he wouldn’t ask his team-mates to do anything that he himself wouldn’t.

Ponting is undoubtedly the key cog in the Aussie wheel, a big-match player fuelled by an insatiable pride at delivering when it matters. Alongside Mike Hussey, he stands as the batting fulcrum in a relatively inexperienced line-up that has shown a propensity to buckle under pressure.

Ponting’s systematic dismantling of England’s bowling in Friday’s semifinal must have set off alarm bells in the Kiwi ranks. It will be up to the likes of Shane Bond and Ian Butler, not to mention Vettori himself, to shackle the diminutive Tasmanian with a penchant for big scores on the big occasion.

For the first time in recent memory, New Zealand will not be found wanting when it comes to marquee contests. For a Watson, they have a McCullum, for a Ponting they have a Taylor, for a Hussey they have the bold Elliott.

In Bond, they have an answer to Brett Lee; then, there is Vettori’s left-arm spin for Johnson’s left-arm pace. New Zealand have no reason to feel under-cooked, even if they don’t have the same experience as Australia of big finals.

DH News Service

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