Final – 2:30 pm AEDT on Sunday, March 29, 2015 at the Melbourne Cricket Ground
Australia – $1.44 at CrownBet.com.au
New Zealand – $3.00
It’s the fairytale final we have all been waiting for – although some have had to wait a little bit longer than others, it must be said.
Host nations Australia and New Zealand have seen off all comers over the past six weeks to set up a tantalising trans-Tasman affair on Sunday afternoon.
One side is playing in its first ever ICC Cricket World Cup final, while the other is looking to sew up a record fifth title in front of a capacity 100,000-strong home crowd at the MCG. Remarkably, however, it is NZ – for so long the underdogs on the international stage – who will come into the decider with the wood over their arch rivals.
The Kiwis have won every single encounter in their 2015 World Cup campaign, and it was they who dealt Australia their only defeat of the tournament thus far. That thrilling one-wicket victory at Eden Park was one of the matches of the tourney, perhaps only surpassed for suspense and spectacle by the hosts’ last-ditch semi final triumph at the same venue on Tuesday evening.
In the eyes of many, it was a case of which choker would choke the least as both New Zealand and South Africa strove to clear the semi final hurdle for the first time. Naturally, it came down to the final over, as a wry twist of fate saw Grant Elliott dispatch his birth nation with a crunching six to complete the highest successful run chase in the history of World Cup knockout matches.
Besides the fact they managed 299 off just 43 overs due to rain delays, the important thing for New Zealand was that it wasn’t the top-order stars who saved the day. Brendon McCullum got them off to a flyer with a characteristic 59 off very few balls, but it was the middle-order pair of Elliott (84 not out) and Corey Anderson (58) – widely touted as the weak spots in the Kiwi batting lineup – who put in the hard yards and got them home under immense pressure.
The question now for the Black Caps is who will accompany the superb Trent Boult in a bowling attack which has shown one or two holes in the knockout stages. Their fastest bowler, Adam Milne, is out of the tournament, Tim Southee’s form isn’t great, and the selectors could go either way on Mitchell McClenaghan and Matt Henry as the third quick.
Another concern is the lack of match practice away from friendly shores, as the New Zealanders have played 30 of their last 35 One Day Internationals at home. Furthermore, the experienced core of McCullum, Southee, Martin Guptill, Daniel Vettori and Ross Taylor all have fairly unflattering ODI records in Melbourne, while key players like Boult and Kane Williamson have never played 50-over cricket at the ‘G.
The dimensions of the 2015 World Cup final venue could also play a part, given the much smaller grounds the Kiwis are accustomed to playing on, but fast bowler Southee insisted he and his teammates would not be overawed by either the scope of the MCG or the noise of 95,000+ fans.
“We’re not too worried about the size of the ground,” the leader of the Kiwi attack told the press during a pre-final training session.
“It’s a dream come true for all the guys. As a kid growing up you either want to be an All Black or a Black Cap.
“This is as good as it gets, taking on Australia in Australia on one of the best cricket grounds in the world.”
The Aussies, meanwhile, will look to replicate their opening-day cakewalk against England and so cap off a World Cup which has followed the script almost to a tee.
With the sole exception of their group-stage loss in Auckland, the co-hosts have had few significant problems on their passage to the final. Selection issues have sorted themselves out, the bowling unit has performed exceptionally well, and they’ve had few problems posting totals despite nobody really challenging the tournament’s top runscorers.
That is not to say they haven’t been tested along the way. Shane Watson et al just about survived a very nasty spell from Pakistan’s Wahab Riaz in the quarterfinal, while it took a late cameo from Mitchell Johnson with the bat to ensure Australia didn’t throw away a great start against India in the semis. There may still be scars from the middle-order collapse at Eden Park, too.
Michael Clarke’s men ended up easing home in Sydney on Thursday night as the seam quartet of Johnson, Mitchell Starc, Josh Hazlewood and James Faulkner wrapped up a 95-run victory to end the defending champions’ reign. The undisputed star of the show, however, was Steve Smith, who helped Australia to a first innings total of 328 while notching one of the most effortless centuries that has ever been scored in a Cricket World Cup semifinal.
Aaron Finch’s 81 from 116 balls was far less fluent, but runs on the board at the SCG should be a warning sign for New Zealand – for both the Victorian and his opening partner, David Warner, have excellent records in Melbourne.
The same goes for Starc, who has taken a combined eight wickets in his last two ODIs at the MCG. The Black Caps can only hope Boult will get similar value from what has looked a rather flat wicket throughout the tournament.
In breaking news, the 2015 World Cup final will also be the lust hurrah for Australia captain Clarke, who has announced his imminent retirement from 50-over internationals.
“I think I got back to my house at about 12:30. Kyly was in bed and that’s when I spoke to her about it,” the 33-year-old said in the pre-match press conference this afternoon.
“I know I’ve made the right decision.
“I told my teammates 10 minutes ago. I told the selectors and [Cricket Australia boss] James Sutherland about an hour ago.”
– Expect no changes for the Australians. Finch’s half-century in Sydney, while scratchy, should have put to bed any rumours about his job security, while left-arm spinner Xavier Doherty won’t even be in the picture here. Hazlewood bowled well again in the semis and should be preferred to Pat Cummins once more.
– New Zealand’s top eight is all but set in stone now, but who will get the nod to support Boult in the pace attack? Southee’s decline in form has raised a few questions, but the likely scenario is a straight shootout between McClenaghan and Henry for the first-change role. The former seems to be getting some traction with the bookies, so don’t be surprised if he starts.
Australia: Michael Clarke (C), David Warner, Aaron Finch, Steve Smith, Shane Watson, Glenn Maxwell, James Faulkner, Brad Haddin, Mitchell Johnson, Mitchell Starc, Josh Hazlewood
New Zealand: Brendon McCullum (C), Martin Guptill, Kane Williamson, Ross Taylor, Grant Elliott, Corey Anderson, Luke Ronchi, Daniel Vettori, Tim Southee, Mitchell McClenaghan, Trent Boult
2015 Cricket World Cup final predictions
Results: Australia to win – $1.44 at CrownBet
Highest opening partnership: Australia – $1.94 at Sportsbet.com.au
Most match sixes: Australia – $2.10 at Bet365
While all the neutrals will be cheering on the Black Caps, the Aussies have to be favourites on home turf and with the track record on their side. Take Australia to win, but the match batting markets could go either way as both sides boast similarly potent top-order players. Indeed, many online bookmakers can’t split the two for the first 15 overs, but there’s plenty of variation available for the opening partnership betting (NZ are slender favourites at Sportsbet but $2.10 outsiders at William Hill).
Top match batsman betting
Steve Smith ($4.50 at Bet365.com.au) – After a sublime 105 against India in the semifinals, Australia’s new first-drop is the obvious choice to top score in the decider. Smith is on a run of four consecutive 60+ scores, and you wouldn’t bet against him extending that streak to cap what has been a remarkable couple of years since his return to international cricket.
David Warner ($4.33 at Sportsbet Australia) – The belligerent opener has been conspicuous by an absence of runs in the World Cup knockout rounds, managing just 24 and 12 against Pakistan and India respectively. But Warner loves the MCG, and punters and bookies alike are expecting a big one from the feisty New South Welshman.
Brendon McCullum ($4.33 at Bet365) – Even though Martin Guptill is poised to top the World Cup runscoring charts, the Black Caps skipper is still the one everybody turns to for that match-winning knock. McCullum’s quick-fire 50s have set New Zealand up beautifully throughout the tournament – his 59 against South Africa was a belter – and you just can’t back against this guy stepping up when his team needs him.
Kane Williamson ($4.50 at CrownBet) – It’s been a solid but unspectacular tournament for the Kiwi number three, who has failed to convert very promising starts into really big scores. Williamson’s talent and big-game temperament are undeniable, however, and you can expect the young man who broke Aussie hearts in Auckland to hold his nerve and lead the rebuild if things get dicey in Melbourne.
Top match bowler tips
Mitchell Starc ($3.40 at Bet365) – The gangly NSW quick has ripped through the 2015 Cricket World Cup from go to woe, picking up 20 wickets at a strike rate of just 16.7 balls per victim. His left-arm pace has produced excellent returns at the MCG in recent times, so tip him to keep the good times rolling this Sunday.
Mitchell Johnson ($4.33 at Sportsbet.com.au) – The familiar line on the other Mitch is that when he bats well, he bowls well. A blistering 27 not out in Sydney seemed to get those Johnson juices flowing again, and he was pretty good value for unremarkable figures of 2 for 50. He’ll be keen to step out of Starc’s shadow and prove he’s still the top dog with a big World Cup final performance.
Trent Boult – What Starc has been for Australia, Boult has been for New Zealand. The 25-year-old deservedly leads the CWC 2015 wicket-taking table with 20 victims at an average of 15.71, including best figures of 5 for 27 in the Black Caps’ thrilling win over their next-door neighbours in Auckland. The left-arm swinger has never played at the ‘G, but Starc’s record there should be encouraging.
Corey Anderson ($6.00 at William Hill) – Although he hasn’t always been economical, New Zealand’s emerging all-rounder has shown a wonderful knack for making those vital breakthroughs. Anderson’s 14 World Cup wickets have come at a startling strike rate of one every 15 balls – the best of all the top bowlers in the tourney.