On form, it should be easy for the defending champions Australia to retain the trophy, but the Australia-New Zealand rivalry has a lot of needle — perhaps more than even the Ashes matches — to be a timid affair.
For far too long, New Zealand believe, Australia have played a big
brother, and they are
desperate to show that they could play as well if not better than them. The rivalry is not confined to just cricket; it’s in just about all walks of life. So expect plenty of fireworks in the final.
The Australians have got to the final in style, coasting to an easy win in the semis against England, making one wonder how they lost the Ashes to them. Ricky Ponting suffered the most from the Ashes loss as it earned him the dubious distinction of losing two back-to-back Ashes series in England.
He went back to Australia for a breather and some introspection, and returned to play the second half of the seven match one-day series. And since then his form has been stupendous.
He seems to have come to terms with the loss and the support he got from the public and the cricket administrators must have rejuvenated him.
So, unless the Kiwis get him out soon in the final, they can kiss their chances a good bye. New Zealand last won the Champions Trophy in Nairobi in 2000; so they will hope the African magic works for them again. They have struggled with injuries to key players, but the manner in which they have regrouped is terrific and Daniel Vettori deserves full credit. Their batting looks a bit brittle, particularly at the top where McCullum has been disappointing. He flails about for a few overs, but in limited overs cricket a top order batsman needs to bat majority of the overs, not just cameos.
New Zealand held their nerve admirably against Pakistan in the semis and the plan to play it carefully worked brilliantly. They won all three matches at the Wanderers, but lost the only one they played at the Centurion.
The ICC Champions Trophy final is at the Centurion. Is that an omen for the Kiwis or what?