After six long weeks of cricket, the destination of the 2015 World Cup will be fought for between the two co-hosts Australia and New Zealand at the famed Melbourne Cricket Ground on Sunday. Australia secured a place in their sixth final with an ultimately comfortable 95-run win over defending champions India, while New Zealand made it through to their first ever final when beating South Africa in a semifinal thriller.
For Australia, their place in the final has surprised nobody, having started the tournament as the favorites and the No. 1 ranked One-Day team in the world. But there have still been challenges along the way. While dealing with the much scrutinized return to the team from injury of captain Michael Clarke, Australia lost their one match away from home soil against the team they’ll now meet in the final. Clarke, though, believes that narrow defeat to New Zealand during the group stage was an important factor in his team making it this far.
“I believe that was the turning point in this tournament for the Australian team,” he said, following the win over India, reports ABC Australia. “I think that gave us a bit of a kick up the backside. We knew we got a good look at a very good team playing at the top of their game and I think our attitude from that day has been exceptional. The boys have got out of bed every single day to try and become better, and I think you've seen that in our results.”
Australia upped their game when it was needed against an India team that had won all seven of their matches in the competition coming into Thursday’s semifinal. Most impressive of all was the performance of Steve Smith. The 25-year-old enhanced his status as Australia’s man-of-the-moment with a knock of 105 off 93 balls to help Australia to a total of 328, which was defended with the help of a couple of valuable contributions from Smith in the field.
In New Zealand, Australia will now have to get past another side to have won every one of their matches so far in this World Cup. Led by the aggressive batting and inspired leadership of Brendon McCullum, New Zealand have been near faultless so far, turning their traditional dark-horses tag on its head to deal with the expectation that has come from playing in front of their home crowd with a team brimming with talent. That mental strength was in evidence in beating their neighbors, who have consistently cast them in a shadow, as well as coming through a nail-biting contest with South Africa. Having lost all of their six previous semifinals, New Zealand finally made it through to the finale with Grant Elliot hitting a six off the penultimate ball.
But they now face their toughest test, having to travel to play off home soil for the first time. In addition, the final will be New Zealand’s first One-Day International in Australia, and at the massive venue of the MCG, for six years. Still, bowler Tim Southee, is confident that he and his team are prepared for the challenge.
“We haven't played here for a long time but there are half a dozen guys who were part of the last game we played here, and we have good memories from that game as well,” he said. “It’s another cricket ground, it’s a big cricket ground, there’s going to be a lot of people, it’s going to be loud. But it’s another game of cricket. We’ve got enough of experience.”
Prediction: The final should provide an entertaining climax to the World Cup. New Zealand have played with bravado throughout the competition, and, in Trent Boult and Tim Southee, they have a strong bowling attack to accompany an aggressive battling lineup led by McCullum. Yet, Australia could well prove just too strong. While Smith took the acclaim from their semifinal win, Aaron Finch plugged away for 81, despite not being in anywhere near top form, in what was just an example of the toughness that runs through this Australia team. As they showed against India, they have several players who can come in and change the momentum of the match with some big-hitting, and, in Mitchell Starc and Mitchell Johnson, two big wicket-taking threats.
Australia to edge in a hard-fought final.