Aus v NZ, World Cup 2015, final, Melbourne March 27, 2015

Can't spot a weakness in Australia - Ponting

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Full Ricky Ponting interview

Ricky Ponting believes Australia are overwhelming favourites to win their fifth World Cup when they take on New Zealand at the MCG on Sunday. Speaking exclusively to ESPNcricinfo, he said he doesn't think Brendon McCullum's men "can win if Australia play as well as they can".

"They are both very good teams, but if you just saw them on paper and if you try and see weaknesses in the Australian team, I am not sure where you find one," Ponting said. "Their top-order batting is brilliant, their new-ball bowling is brilliant, their allrounders are some of the best in the world and they are going to play at the MCG, where they know the conditions really well. That's not saying New Zealand can't win, we have seen how good a brand of cricket they can play, but I've just got a feeling that the Aussies won't let a moment like a World Cup final at home slip."

Ponting has played in five World Cups, reached four finals and won three times, twice as captain, and he believes the opposition's eagerness to do "something extra special" was the reason for them to "come undone" while Australia were focused on playing to the level they were capable of.

"When Tiger Woods used to turn up at the majors, he had most of the guys beaten before he started because they knew they had do something extra special to try and beat him because he was that much better," he said. "I think that's what happened with us on a few occasions in a World Cup. Australian teams will play to their capability in a World Cup final and if this current team do that then I think another big score is on the cards. I don't think we've seen them play at their best in this World Cup yet. That's the scary thing for me with this team, they haven't played at their best yet and they are still winning quite easily."

One playing a seventh World Cup final, the other a first. Who will win? © ICC

While Australia will be in their seventh final, New Zealand will play their first. Under McCullum, they have shown a compelling brand of cricket and arrive in Melbourne on the back of an eight-match winning streak in the tournament. Watching their progress from the sidelines, Ponting has been impressed and expects them not to be overawed by the occasion.

"They are known as Australia's little brothers, they want to prove a point and say 'hang on, we are as good as Australia and we are going to prove it here today', that will be their mindset," he said. "As long as the Australian team plays New Zealand on skill, don't get too involved in the emotional side of things, they will win. New Zealand are a very good side, [Trent] Boult and [Tim] Southee are exceptional bowlers and if McCullum comes and does what he does at the top of the order, anything can happen.

"I think it's opening batsmen versus opening bowlers. If New Zealand can keep [Mitchell] Starc, [Mitchell] Johnson and [Josh] Hazlweood out and McCullum gets off to a flyer, it gives them a great chance of winning. If [Aaron] Finch and [David] Warner can get on top of Boult and Southee early then that will expose their third bowler, Matt Henry, who is relatively young. If he has to bowl against some of those powerful Australian middle-order batsmen when they are set, that's going to be hard work for him. I think that's where the game will be decided."

One of the running themes through the tournament has been the ultra-aggressive tactics employed by McCullum, often placing as many as four slips for his new-ball bowlers. Ponting is of the view that the New Zealand captain has chosen this route as the one-day game has fundamentally transformed under the new rules.

"If you break down the modern game, I think there's actually two games within one 50-over game," he explained. "There's 0-35 overs, which is one game and there's the last 15 which is another, almost completely different game. What Brendon's trying to do with his bowling is that he's trying to break the opposition's back before the 35th over. So he's going all-out attack, trying to take all the wickets he can in the first 35 so teams can't score really heavily at the back end with wickets in hand. That's been New Zealand's tactics so far and it's worked because Boult has been successful while the ball has been swinging. I don't think it will swing as much at Melbourne, so they might have to do things slightly differently."

I think there's actually two games within one 50-over game. There's 0-35 overs, which is one game and there's the last 15 which is another, almost completely different game

Among Australia's key figures in the final will be Steven Smith, who has been in red-hot form throughout the summer and produced a match-winning hundred in the semi-final against India. Ponting believes Smith has all the makings of an "all-time great" on the evidence of his performances over the last few months.

"He is making batting look so much easier than other players around the world right now," Ponting said. "He's a little bit unorthodox in the way he does things, picks his bat up a bit different to most top-order batsmen but the positions he gets himself into are really, really good. His timing, composure and the way he's gone about his cricket in the last 12-18 months suggests to me that he could be one of our very best players till the time his career is over.

"Whenever extra responsibility has come his way, he has grabbed it with both hands. You look back at when he was made captain of the Test team in the summer and how he played with the bat. More importantly, how he handled himself and the team. As a young guy, I thought he did a great job with the captaincy side of things and his batting speaks for itself. I actually spoke to him after the semi-final and he is so keen just to have one more big game and finish off what's been a remarkable summer for him."

Ponting also expected Michael Clarke "to stand up" in the final if he gets the opportunity to bat earlier than he did against India on Thursday. And should Clarke lead Australia to victory on Sunday, Ponting, who quit as one-day captain following Australia's defeat to India in the 2011 World Cup quarter-final, thought there would be "no better time" for him to retire from ODIs. Sentiments that Ponting had also expressed in a column last month on ESPNcricinfo.

"I was basing that on how I think his body might hold up," Ponting said. "Everything he was saying was based around wanting to play more Test cricket and I thought the best way for him to be able to get more longevity for his career was to not play one-day cricket. The rigours of one-day cricket, not just the games but the travel that goes with it, you don't get much time between games. For someone who has had back injuries and those sort of issues, getting on and off planes everyday and sleeping on different hotel beds, that sort of thing is not good for you. My basis to that statement was that if he wanted to play Test cricket, he might have to consider retiring from one-day cricket. If you end up winning the World Cup, there'll be no better time."

Gaurav Kalra is a senior editor at ESPNcricinfo. @gauravkalra75

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Dummy on April 1, 2015, 20:27 GMT

    All I will say is Ponting was pretty accurate with his article.

  • Steve on March 29, 2015, 13:42 GMT

    How about the lack of a spinner?

  • cricketgreats on March 29, 2015, 4:02 GMT

    after 2007 wc aussies never won any major icc tournaments

  • Mark on March 29, 2015, 1:19 GMT

    @Nikhil Chikkmath - everyone goes on about how NZ bowled Aus out for 150, well Aus almost bowled NZ out for 150 also, they were 9 down and almost lost the match.

    The ball will not swing as much at the MCG, and the boundaries are much larger. That game on the postage stamp they call a cricket field in NZ will have no bearing on the final.

    Having said that, I think it will be a very close game that could be decided by some individual brilliance with either bat or ball. I think Australia definitely on paper is stronger, but NZ on form probably has the edge. Australia's bowling lineup is stronger and more batsman capable of scoring big runs fast. Australia bat down to 9, lets not forget the impact of Johnson's little cameo with the bat against India. It was probably the innings that broke their back. NZ are very dependent on McCullum or Guptil to have a big innings. For Australia it can be anyone in the top 8.

  • Vivek on March 29, 2015, 0:39 GMT

    I think NZ's batting depends a lot on how Brandon bats in the beginning. Also, NZ has been playing on small grounds in their own country so it would be a totally new experience for them. On the other hand, Australia's opening pair has not given any confident starts. Though Finch scored some runs against India but he had hard scoring runs in the beginning. If India had one more fast/pace bowler, Australia couldn't have scored so many runs. Australian batting runs through 8th down, that's pretty deep. Watch out for James Faulkner and Glen Maxwell. My prediction is that it's going to be a low scoring game.

  • Jake on March 29, 2015, 0:20 GMT

    The Aussie and Kiwis don't really care about the toss in a one day game. They will generally both back themselves regardless if they are setting a target or chasing. Ponting as won three world cups so he does know something about the game.

  • Chatty on March 29, 2015, 0:06 GMT

    I don't think Australia are that great relative to other teams in the world. Sure, the conditions will help them. But this team is nothing like the teams of the past which totally dominated cricket. They may have not played their best. But that is because they were not allowed to. They did not play South Africa in this WC. They lost to NZ. They almost lost to Pakistan. In fact, I would say that SL had a good chance of beating them too, if not for injuries to the SL team during the match. Australia has a vulnerability against high class fast bowling and NZ can deliver on that. If this was played on neutral territory, this would have been anybody's game. NZ are still the underdogs, but only because of the venue.

  • Dummy4 on March 28, 2015, 23:04 GMT

    Aussie lack a world-class spinner and their much vaunted top six (particularly Finch, Warner and Maxwell) are suspect to the swinging ball as we saw in Auckland.

    If the ball moves, Aussie will struggle.

  • Howard on March 28, 2015, 18:38 GMT

    John Powell. Enough already about the semi final. Everyone who was watching the Auckland weather forecasts and rain radar that day knew that there was likely to be a shower around 5pm. SA won the toss and chose to bat. Why? Because they were scared to chase. People have been kind to them because AB is more likeable than his predecessors, but let's face it, they choked again. The final will be about Boult v Warner and Finch and Starc v Guptill and McCullum. Whoever wins those battles will likely win the match.

  • Vinod on March 28, 2015, 13:28 GMT

    Opening pair is certainly a weakness. Who knows, tomorrow it may not be so! For all we know, Warner and Finch may put on 100 in 15.

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