If you have a strong opinion about whose going to win the Cricket World Cup Final Sunday, I am suspicious of you. Australia and New Zealand are two teams in excellent form, with exceptional players and are equally capable of being World Champions come Sunday night. To pretend otherwise is silly.
New Zealand have been the best team in the competition, destroying any team that showed weakness. The only teams that have pushed them are the world’s best two teams, and whilst the margins were close, New Zealand made all the running in both games. They dominated Australia, destroying a batting line-up that had just put 340 on England, and made its bowling attack look ordinary until Mitchell Starc showed he is anything but. In the semi-final New Zealand held South Africa early, and then pursued one of the more impressive chases of recent history.
Their bowling has been the best of the tournament bar none. They have the most balanced attack, with the spin of Vettori a notable advantage. And their batting, led at the top by the ultra-aggression of McCullum, ably supported by Williamson, Taylor and the lower-order hitting of Elliot and Anderson, has proven capable of great things (e.g. the semi-final), if also capable of mistakes (e.g. the Australia and Scotland games).
In the group stage Australia lost to New Zealand and no one else. Things were closer than the score suggested in the quarter-final against Pakistan, and in the semi they beat a team they beat every game this summer. With all the talk of the form of Warner, Watson, Clarke and Finch you’d be forgiven if you thought that Australia’s batting had struggled this tournament. But Australia has routinely scored over 300 when it has batted first, with everyone in the top six contributing at some point in the tournament. Mitchell Starc, Steve Smith and Glenn Maxwell have proved that Australia have proven match winners. And whilst Warner has been underwhelming, it’s hard to say he’s been out of form – he just hasn’t made a score yet. There form perhaps hasn’t been as amazing as New Zealand’s in the short-term, but over the last 12 months they have been the world’s best. They’ve settled on a side which finally looks balanced, and playing at the MCG means they don’t have to play the sub-standard spin of Xavier Doherty.
Picking between the two sides is impossible. It’s not like we have anything in the way of form between the two sides to look at. These two teams haven’t played in Australia since Obama was inaugurated. The first time. They’ve barely played outside of international tournaments, only meeting in World Cup’s and Champions’ Trophies in that time.
There are those that point to New Zealand’s lack of experience with the size of the MCG and its different bowling conditions as the reason Australia will lose. Sure it’s a consideration, and it may be something that catches out one or two stray shots. But it’s just as likely to result in stray shots falling between well-spread fielders as it is in their hands. There’s nothing to suggest Southee and Boult can’t swing the ball at the MCG, and even if they don’t, both bowlers are fast and intelligent enough to get wickets regardless.
This is not to say the final will necessary be close. If the semi-final between Australia and India showed us anything, it’s that when chasing sizeable scores, when things go wrong they go wrong fast. We also saw this in Sri Lanka’s chase of Australia’s 370+ in the group stage. Both games saw teams chase sizeable targets and look like they were on track but when wickets fell, they did quickly, ending each game with greater margins than they probably deserved.
Both of these teams are capable of putting on more than 350 on Sunday, regardless of the bowling they face. One suspects chasing will take a long innings from either the untethered brilliance of McCullum or Maxwell, or the equally brilliant but substantially less bombastic approach of Steve Smith and Kane Williamson. And of course, plans of runs may be ruined by either bowling attacks potential to rip the hearts out of the other team while the ball is new.
To be frank, I have no idea what is going to happen tomorrow. There’s no piece of data, no hints in the form and no comprehensive argument that gives me a feel for what’s going to happen.
And given you’re humble correspondent gets to be there, I think that’s magnificent.