World Cup Final: Australia vs New Zealand at Melbourne
Australia and New Zealand are the most closely-matched sides in ODI cricket. Both teams have potent bowling attacks, clinical fielding skills, tactically-aggressive captains, a blend of finesse and power in their batting lineup, and matchwinners sprinkled throughout their side. New Zealand will be competing in their first World Cup final, after having previously been knocked out in the semi-finals of the tournament six times. The Kiwis showed enormous courage and resilience in edging out heavyweights South Africa in a thrilling semi final in Auckland on Tuesday. They enter the final as the only undefeated team of this World Cup. However, New Zealand have had the luxury of playing all eight of their matches to this point on home soil. The Kiwis have not played an ODI at the MCG for six years and will need to adapt to the size of the ground, which has boundaries far, far longer than those at Eden Park in Auckland. For Australia, the MCG long has been a stronghold. Actually, the whole of the country has been a fortress for Australia – they have lost only twice in their past 28 ODIs at home. Australia displayed in their semi-final win over India one of their biggest strengths: the ability to absorb pressure in knockout games. Australia have won all seven of their semi finals in World Cup history and have lifted the trophy a record four times. In their semi final on Thursday, Australia were under huge pressure when India got off to a flying start with the bat. But their experience, skill and composure shone through as they broke India’s spirit and completed a crushing win. Australia’s home ground advantage and big game experience will prove too much for the gallant Kiwis in this final.
Trent Boult and Tim Southee vs Steve Smith:
Australia have one glaring weakness at the moment, or perhaps more correctly two – their opening partnership is floundering, with both David Warner and Aaron Finch in poor form. Number three batsman Smith’s ability to come to the crease after an early wicket and halt the opposition’s momentum has been crucial for Australia. Smith’s last four scores have been 95, 72, 65 and 105. His ODI record since the start of the Australian summer is astounding: 1016 runs at an average of 68, including four centuries and six fifties from 19 games. Beyond Smith, Australia’s middle order is somewhat vulnerable. New Zealand will know that if they can get past Smith the game may open up for them. Their swing bowlers Southee and Boult have been in wonderful touch this tournament and will be entrusted with trying to dislodge the uber-consistent Smith.