Underdog tale reaches tough climax
Match factsMonday, October 5, 2009
Start time 1430 (1230 GMT)
Underdogs in films make a mockery of the form book. Exhibit 1: New Zealand come to the Champions Trophy, sans superstars, sans high ICC rankings, and after being well and truly battered for more than a month in the sapping heat of Sri Lanka. They are - it is fair to say - the outsiders in this tournament.
Underdogs in the movies start out of their depth, find the happy knack of winning, and then start liking what they feel. Exhibit 2: New Zealand are outclassed by South Africa on a true Centurion pitch. Then Sri Lanka, fooled by the earlier two pitches at the Wanderers, put New Zealand in, and discover they have given their opponents first use of a batting beauty. Against England, New Zealand get a spitting beauty of a pitch, call right at the toss, and run through the batting.
Underdogs in the movies are hit by injuries, handicaps, and miseries, but every setback inspires them. Exhibit 3: New Zealand lose Jacob Oram before their campaign starts. Jesse Ryder pulls his left abductor muscle during the Sri Lanka game, but before leaving plays the kind of innings that must have led to the coining of the phrase "beware the wounded batsman". Then Daryl Tuffey, at the time looking their best bowler, breaks his hand while fielding and is ruled out for the rest of the tournament. Next up, Grant Elliott, hero of the win against England, breaks his thumb, but braves the injury to score a heroic unbeaten 75 in the semi-final.
The real villains start appearing only in the later stages of underdog movies. Exhibit 4: On paper Pakistan have everything they need to end this underdog tale, but their occasional overconfidence and exceptional play from the underdogs take New Zealand to the final.
Underdogs in the movies meet the biggest, scariest villain right at the end. Exhibit 5: It is always Australia's fate, or that of any champion team, that their excellence, consistency, their hard work, will always be seen as villainous in romantic underdog stories. We can also conveniently forget that they too lost three of their most important players - Nathan Bracken, Michael Clarke and Brad Haddin - in the lead-up to the tournament. Champions, though, don't deserve such considerations. Every good underdog story needs a mean villain, and Australia have rarely failed to oblige at world events.
If more context is needed, New Zealand have historically seen Australia as big brothers, and have always sought to bring their best against them. Moreover, New Zealand are yet to beat Australia in a tournament final, and have lost six times (tournaments with more than one final have been considered as one). Centurion will not provide them with a freak pitch either. It's all stacked up against New Zealand this time, and no self-respecting underdog story would have it any other way.
How good this story is will be known by Monday evening, or rather early on Tuesday morning in Australia and New Zealand.
Form guide(last five completed matches, most recent first)
Australia - WWWLW
Ominously they are peaking at the right time. Even more ominously they have survived the one token scare that champion sides face, in the game against Pakistan.
New Zealand - WWWLL
Their weakened line-up has made the rest even more determined. They will rely a lot on their bowlers and fielders to find a balance between defence and attack, and restrict Australia like they did Pakistan.
Both teams gave satisfactory performances in the semi-finals, and both are more or less settled - even if not entirely by design.
Australia (probable): 1 Shane Watson, 2 Tim Paine (wk), 3 Ricky Ponting (capt), 4 Michael Hussey, 5 Cameron White, 6 Callum Ferguson, 7 James Hopes, 8 Mitchell Johnson, 9 Brett Lee, 10 Nathan Hauritz, 11 Peter Siddle.
A discussion on allrounder Brendon Diamanti has its merits - Neil Broom hasn't had much to do in the tournament - but New Zealand are not likely to tinker with a winning combination. And the way Elliott came through the semi-final, a big worry for them has been taken care of.
New Zealand (probable): 1 Brendon McCullum (wk), 2 Aaron Redmond, 3 Martin Guptill, 4 Ross Taylor, 5 Neil Broom, 6 Grant Elliot, 7 James Franklin, 8 Daniel Vettori (capt), 9 Kyle Mills, 10 Shane Bond, 11 Ian Butler.
Watch out for...
Daniel Vettori is definitely in the running for the Player-of-the-Series award. Against Sri Lanka he rescued a floundering middle order, and against Pakistan he promoted himself to No. 6 and guided a nervous side through to the final. And that's besides his routine job, during which he has taken seven wickets at an average of 17.71 and an economy-rate of 3.97. He is now four wickets short of the leading wicket-taker of the tournament, Wayne Parnell.
Ricky Ponting has a habit of turning it on on the big day. But he is a bruised captain, too, the only Australian leader since time immemorial to have lost the Ashes twice. He has also led them to successive unsuccessful campaigns at ICC events. When was the last time they failed to win three majors in a row?
Shane Watson is a threat to Vettori for that series award. He has taken six wickets at 16.83, and put behind him the lean run with the bat that he experienced at the end of the England series and at the start of this event. If he bats like he did in the semi-final, we could be in for a swift finish.
Pitch and conditions
Centurion, apart from the Pakistan-Australia game, has had flat batting pitches, which could made it harder for New Zealand to pull off an upset. A 30% chance of precipitation means we should get a complete game.
Stats and trivia
- New Zealand have entered 13 tournament finals before this, and have won four of those.
- Since their 1999 World Cup triumph, Australia have reached 19 tournament finals, and have lost only three: in 1999 to Sri Lanka in Colombo, and two CB Series finals to England and India in 2006-07 and 2007-08 respectively.
- The whole New Zealand team has scored six ODI centuries between them (Ross Taylor 3 and Brendon McCullum, Martin Guptill and Grant Elliott one each), Ponting has 28.
- Australia have beaten New Zealand in six tournament finals. This will be their first meeting in a final at a neutral venue.
"We are playing at a level which would win us the big games. We look to play best cricket when it matters. We are peaking at the right time for the finals."
Ricky Ponting can feel what those wanting a close contest are dreading.
"But once you reach that level, you realise there is an immense desire to go all the way and I think there's no relief in the camp. It was all about how we're going to win tomorrow as opposed to it's great the we've made it"
Reaching the final was once New Zealand's goal, but not anymore, says Daniel Vettori.
Sidharth Monga is a staff writer at Cricinfo