AFTER six weeks and 48 matches, we are finally down to the decider of the 2015 ICC Cricket World Cup – and what a final it promises to be.
Everything has gone to script for Australia and New Zealand, with the two host nations delivering their lines to near-perfection to set up a fantasy finale at the Melbourne Cricket Ground on Sunday.
The Black Caps continued their unbeaten run at the expense of South Africa, who were left ruing rain delays once again as they went down on the second-last ball of a shortened semifinal in Auckland.
India, meanwhile, saw their tilt at back-to-back World Cup titles come up short on Thursday evening, as even a signature run-a-ball 65 from MS Dhoni couldn’t get them over the line against a composed Aussie outfit in Sydney.
With home ground advantage and a bowling attack showing very good form all the way through, the Australians are heavily favoured to triumph in Melbourne. Online bookmaker CrownBet.com.au has the four-time world champions at $1.44 to win, while both Bet 365 and Luxbet.com are paying $3.00 for the Kiwis.
It has come down to a tussle between two left-arm seamers in the Cricket World Cup futures betting for the top-tournament wicket-taker. Trent Boult ($1.72 at William Hill) and Mitchell Starc ($2.37 at Sportsbet) have been the standout bowlers all the way through, but the Kiwi quick comes in with a one-wicket edge on his fellow lefty.
If you fancy a rank outsider to come from nowhere with a big bag on Sunday, Bet365.com.au is also taking wagers on Daniel Vettori ($101) and Tim Southee ($201) to top the bowling charts. Both have 15 World Cup wickets to date, meaning one of them would have to take at least six wickets in the final to pass Boult and Starc.
In the top World Cup batsman betting, it’s a matter of whether Martin Guptill can get the 10 runs required to beat Kumar Sangakkara’s mark of 541 runs. Understandably, New Zealand’s surprise hero is down to just $1.28 at Sportsbet – he was paying nearly 50 times that price a month out from the tournament.
In the match-day betting markets, Guptill ($4.50 at Luxbet), Kane Williamson ($4.50 at Sportsbet) and the always dangerous Brendon McCullum ($4.33 at Bet365) are widely favoured to top score for the Kiwis. Steve Smith ($4.50 at Bet365.com.au) is red hot after a silky 105 against India, while Australian openers David Warner ($4.25 at CrownBet) and Aaron Finch ($5.00 at Sportsbet) remain very well liked by the bookies.
Starc ($3.40 at Bet365) and Boult ($3.25 at Bet365) lead their respective sides’ match wicket-taking markets, although www.Luxbet.com is giving the Aussie a half-dollar edge at $6 to beat out his Kiwi counterpart in the overall match bowling betting.
There seems to be quite a bit of love for Mitchell McClenaghan ($4.00 at Luxbet) in the NZ match markets, suggesting he may be preferred to Matt Henry as the third quick.
Winners & losers at the 2015 Cricket World Cup
Like any World Cup tournament, Australia and New Zealand 2015 has been prosperous for some and much less so for others.
Here are a few of the biggest tops and flops from the tourney so far.
Martin Guptill – The Kiwi opener’s spot was far from certain leading up to this Cricket World Cup. Some 532 runs later, his critics aren’t saying much.
Guptill’s magnificent 237 not out in the quarterfinals catapulted him into the upper reaches of the runscoring charts, and now he needs just a couple of clean hits in the decider to claim first spot outright (unless Steve Smith manages to smash out a double century).
Punters who picked him up early in the futures betting will be jumping for joy, as Guptill was paying $51 and upwards at many Australian bookmakers just a few weeks out from the tournament.
Bangladesh – We pumped up the Tigers in the build-up to World Cup 2015, and they certainly didn’t let us down. The Bangladeshis qualified comfortably from Group A with three wins and a washout against Australia, sealing their first knockout appearance with a memorable 15-run victory over England.
They couldn’t get past an in-form India in the quarterfinals, but anyone who had them pegged to progress from the group stage will be feeling pretty pleased with themselves right now.
The spinners – It was expected to be a batsman’s World Cup, given the pearly white pitches of Australia and the short boundaries across the ditch. As often as not, however, the bowlers have stolen the show in 2015 – and not just the quicks, either. The tweakers and turners have had plenty of joy throughout the tourney, led by Daniel Vettori (15 wickets at 18.80), Imran Tahir (15 wickets at 21.53) and Ravichandran Ashwin (13 wickets at 25.38).
When part-timers like JP Duminy are taking hat-tricks in World Cup quarterfinals, you know things are going well for the slow bowlers.
England – There was a lot of talk about England’s backroom problems leading into the 2015 World Cup, but there can be no excuses for just how poor their on-field performances were.
The Three Lions managed just two wins in Group A (against Afghanistan and Scotland) and were dumped out rather unceremoniously by Bangladesh, as poor bowling plans and a marked lack of firepower with the bat highlighted an absence of leadership and direction.
Back to the drawing board at the ECB.
Dale Steyn – How long can we keep making excuses about the South African seamer’s fitness when it comes to the crunch?
Steyn was comfortably outshone by Morne Morkel and Kyle Abbott throughout the tournament, averaging 31.45 and managing multiple wickets only twice in eight games.
And it was the 31-year-old quick who suffered worst at the hands of New Zealand in the semifinal at Eden Park, conceding the match-winning six to finish with unflattering figures of 1 for 76 from 8.5 overs.
Who knows if he will get another crack at World Cup glory, but it was a bit of a bust for Steyn this time around.
The Associate nations – With the ICC set to reduce the number of teams competing in the next World Cup, this may have been the last opportunity for the less established sides to make their mark.
It was not to be, however, as the quarterfinals were made up solely of Test nations. Afghanistan registered a landmark win, but there was no fairytale for Scotland or the United Arab Emirates.
It would be a great shame if there was no place at England 2019 for up-and-coming teams like Ireland, who won three group games (including a first-up victory over the West Indies) but just missed out on the knockouts due to an inferior net run rate.