Brothers vie for ultimate prize

Michael Clarke's men have home advantage, but the aggressive New Zealanders are no pushovers

Brothers vie for ultimate prize

After almost six weeks of competition -- which witnessed some edge-of-the-seat thrillers, a couple of upsets and quite a few lopsided affairs -- the World Cup is ready for a fascinating climax with two sporting nations looking to upstage each other for the biggest cricketing prize.   

 

As traditional sporting rivalries go, the trans-Tasman is up there among the most storied ones. It’s probably more fierce when it comes to rugby clashes, but sparks often fly when teams from Australia and New Zealand face-off each other on a cricket field. History shows Australia have dominated in most of the contests against New Zealand but the Kiwis have had their moments under the sun through their long rivalry.

One would have got a glimpse of the intensity of these matches when a packed Eden Park stadium in Auckland booed almost every Australian player as New Zealand held on to a nervy one-wicket win in a group match.

Sunday’s atmosphere will not be any less electric with the Melbourne Cricket Ground expected to be packed to its 100,000 capacity as the two neighbours lock horns in the final of the World Cup. Australia will bank on the experience in winning finals while New Zealand will be driven by the hunger to win their maiden Cup. The make-up of the team and a massive home advantage anoints Australia as marginal favourites but New Zealand have shown they are the side to beat at the moment.

New Zealand have made the final with an all-win record while Australia’s only loss came against the Black Caps. And as such, both sides appear evenly matched. They have powerful pace bowling units and explosive batting line-ups. But then this is World Cup final and it’s not just about runs and wickets but it’s also about holding one’s nerve. That’s where Australia have an upper hand. They have played in six World Cup finals and have won four of them. And you would reckon they know how to win big games.  
   
The hosts will also have an extra incentive to be pumped-up when they step on the MCG’s turf. Michael Clarke will be playing his final one-day international for Australia and they will want it to be a memorable send-off for their retiring skipper. New Zealand have no less motivating factors either apart from the biggest one that they need to do it for their country.

Daniel Vettori will be retiring from cricket after Sunday’s game but more poignantly the win will be a fitting tribute to their former captain Martin Crowe who is fighting a losing battle against cancer. Crowe’s team had crashed out in the semfinal of the 1992 edition at home and he will be in Melbourne to see Brendon McCullum potentially climb the podium to receive the coveted trophy.

McCullum has been the inspiration behind New Zealand’s run to the final. He has batted with aggression and has been attacking with his captaincy that some feel has bordered on the outrageous. Martin Guptill and Kane Williamson have been brilliant through the tournament while Ross Taylor has made decent contributions.

Grant Elliot, who dashed South African hopes with six off Dale Steyn, is an ideal enforcer at fifth with Korey Anderson to follow him. It’s, however, the bowling that has been a more important feature of New Zealand’s dream campaign. Trent Boult and Tim Southee have combined with deadly effect up front while Daniel Vettori has shown his bowling has only matured like old wine with his advancing age.

The biggest test for the Kiwi attack though will be adapting to the conditions at the MCG which doesn’t aid swing or seam like most New Zealand venues do. Australian batsmen know the conditions here like the back of their palm while their bowlers know the lengths they need to hit to make the ball talk. Your mind says it’s advantage Australia but the heart beats for New Zealand.

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