Sunday Observer Online


Sunday, 29 March 2015





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Kiwis must bridge a gulf to take world crown

There is a gap wider than the Tasman Sea between the cricket of Australia and New Zealand. In many ways it might as well be a different game.

In Australia, it is still paraded as the national sport, though that may be more in hope than conviction, and after untold years of success they have come to expect to win. They work harder and longer to achieve that aim. They are driven. Sometimes it is possible to think that somewhere along the way they forgot to enjoy it.In New Zealand, it is still a pleasant diversion between rugby seasons.

Mitchel Stark the Aussie paceman

They are tough, they usually punch above their weight but they have come to anticipate not winning. Their play in the past six weeks has been continually marked by their easy determination that it is there to be enjoyed.

Aussies maintain record

The difference, in essence, may be defined by the fact that before this tournament Australia had never lost any of their six semi-finals, New Zealand had never won any of their six. Australia have maintained their record, New Zealand have broken their sequence, with the upshot that tomorrow the countries meet in the 11th World Cup final.

Australia will begin as favourites to become world one-day champions for the fifth time, the fourth in the last five times of asking. Not hot favourites but warm enough to suggest it would be an upset if it went the other way. New Zealand, who have won eight successive matches, will have most of the rest of the world on their side, except in the stadium.

This is not because of any particular antipathy towards Australia - though there is an undoubted feeling that they have had their share of the glittering prizes - more an affinity for the smaller potatoes.Both sides have produced a fashion of playing exactly befitting its time throughout this splendid tournament; both have been relentless.

Kiwi paceman Trent Boult

For Australia, the match is the culmination of a season which was blighted shortly after it began by the death of Phillip Hughes, who had been in the team as recently as last September.That tragedy has overshadowed everything that has been done since here in the name of cricket.

Hughes name not mentioned

The Australia captain, Michael Clarke, one of life’s more misunderstood individuals in that he so obviously has fathomless depths, grew in stature because of the nobly dignified way he handled himself then. During the tournament, Hughes’ name has not been mentioned, or not overtly, but there is an underlying feeling that the team are doing all this in his memory.Clarke has overcome serious injury to arrive at this point.

The surgery to cure his troublesome hamstring seems to have been successful but there were genuine fears that his career was in jeopardy. But he is also beset by the burgeoning opinion that as a one-day batsman in 2015 he is not truly worth his place in the team and that his relationship with the coach, Darren Lehmann, is an arranged marriage, rather than one made in heaven. No one imagines that either was down on one knee at any point pleading eternal devotion.

At the press briefing following the step-by-step dismantling of India in Sydney the other night, the only time a relaxed Clarke bridled was when he was asked the question. He said that he thought his record was pretty good against anybody.

Since suffering defeat by one wicket to New Zealand in a compelling pool match, Australia have been more driven than ever. They have bristled; their fast bowlers, especially the two Mitchells, Johnson and Starc, have been constantly on the batsmen’s cases and in their faces. Clarke’s team mean business, though the fragility of their opening partnership throughout the competition (a best of 57, four times under 20) will be something that their opponents’ equally superb opening bowlers will be eager to exploit.New Zealand, led by Brendon McCullum, have unquestionably been easier to admire. McCullum has regularly made a point of saying how this is the best time of the players’ lives.

The two captains Michael Clarke (Australia) left and Brendon McCullum (New Zealand) posing for apicture with the World Cup.

And he has stayed utterly faithful to the theme of attacking cricket. It is one thing to talk about it (as others closer to home do, for instance), it is quite another to put it into action.McCullum has done so every match, never taking a backward step, and his men have followed him, simply knowing that they are guaranteed his support.

It is the mark of a true leader.Thinking back a couple of years, it is extraordinary what McCullum and the coach, Mike Hesson, have achieved.. Hesson, not close to being an international player, was a surprising choice as New Zealand’s coach in 2012.Fairly early in the job, he was instrumental in the removal from the captaincy of Ross Taylor, a popular figure and the side’s gun batsman. Hesson wanted as captain his old chum from Otago, McCullum, whose place in the team was guaranteed. It was clumsily handled at best and Hesson, of whom few had heard, was widely derided.. But Hesson knew what he was doing; he has an eye for a cricketer and the style he wanted those cricketers to play. He is a slight man with a slightly wary countenance which belies an affable nature. He stood firm. Together he and McCullum have built towards this tournament, alighting on players and making sure that they fitted in the dressing room.

Taylor still to show true form

There is the suspicion that neither is on Taylor’s Christmas card list and it may or may not be entirely coincidental that Taylor has yet to show any of his more stupendous form in this tournament. Deep down it still rankles.

But the team have united and the nation is behind them in a way that is touching. Cricket is not rugby in New Zealand, it is not a religion with all the connotations, healthy and unhealthy, that brings, but it has touched the wider community in a way that has eluded Australia.Some time, New Zealand’s irrepressibly audacious approach will provoke a rapid collapse.

That occasion does not deserve to be tomorrow in the final.The stadium itself, the giant cavern known as the G, may be the 12th member of the opposition, the only place Australia are guaranteed overwhelming support. Five of New Zealand’s team have never played there, three have played there once, and none for six years, in which time it has changed but seems bigger, not smaller.

When M S Dhoni, India’s captain, was asked about the final he said: “One of the biggest things New Zealand will have to deal with is the size of the field.”But it is not as big as the Ditch, which is what they call the Tasman Sea hereabouts. To win, New Zealand must bridge both gaps.

The Independent

[Teams and match officials for World Cup final]

Australia (from): Michael Clarke (captain), George Bailey (vice captain), Pat Cummins, Xavier Doherty, James Faulkner, Aaron Finch, Brad Haddin (wk), Josh Hazlewood, Mitchell Johnson, Mitchell Marsh, Glenn Maxwell, Steven Smith, Mitchell Starc, David Warner, Shane Watson.

New Zealand (from): Brendon McCullum (captain), Corey Anderson, Trent Boult, Grant Elliott, Martin Guptill, Matt Henry, Tom Latham, Mitchell McClenaghan, Nathan McCullum, Kyle Mills, Luck Ronchi, Tim Southee, Ross Taylor, Daniel Vettori, Kane Williamson.

Ranjan Madugalle (match referee), Kumar Dharmasena and Richard Kettleborough (both on-field umpires), Marais Erasmus (third umpire), Ian Gould (fourth umpire)

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