Trans-Tasman rivals brace for final reckoning

Cricket


Big Picture

England’s coach Trevor Bayliss may be of the opinion that there’s no place for T20 internationals in a crowded calendar, but try telling that to the combatants in Wednesday’s final of the inaugural T20 tri-series in Auckland. Or indeed to the Eden Park crowd, who were treated last Friday to an astonishingly run-laden exhibition from the same two teams. Short boundaries, big hits, finely crafted specialist teams. Not to mention the prospect of NZD50,000 bounties if anyone clings on to a one-handed stunner in the stands. What’s not to like?

It’s all a far cry from the permed hair and Frank Zappa moustaches that greeted Australia and New Zealand’s maiden T20 encounter at Auckland 13 years ago. Like the format as a whole, the world’s first T20 international may have been treated as a gimmick by its participants, but the game has got rather more serious in recent times.

Australia, rightly, go into the final as favourites, but in the course of a dominant group stage, they have settled upon an astonishingly power-packed line-up. A key priority going into the tournament was to rest the likes of Steve Smith, Pat Cummins, Mitchell Starc and other bankers of the 50-over and Test teams, but with this year’s Big Bash cementing several specialist reputations, the men at Australia’s disposal could hardly be more perfectly crafted to their roles.

After a subdued Ashes and a struggle in the opening games, David Warner rediscovered his joie de vivre at Auckland with 59 from 24 balls, where D’Arcy Short’s free-spirited walloping alongside him no doubt reminded him of his own T20 origins. Glenn Maxwell’s Big Show has been in full flow throughout the tournament, not least in his one-man obliteration of England at Hobart, and with Andrew Tye’s illegible slower balls and Billy Stanlake’s cloud-snagging seamers leading the line with the ball, their opponents have often found no place to hide.

That said, New Zealand are fully capable of some fireworks of their own. Colin Munro and Martin Guptill will probably still be wondering how they failed to set their side up for victory at Auckland last week, after plundering 132 runs in a 10.3-over opening stand, with Guptill going on to complete a national-record 49-ball hundred.

Even so, they come into the match with a record of four defeats in their last five T20Is, after being pipped to the post by a subdued England in their final group game on Sunday. It mattered not in the bigger picture – England had already been edged out of qualification on net run rate by the time Tom Curran closed out the final over. But it sums up the challenge, even on a favoured home ground, of stopping the Australian juggernaut.

Form guide

New Zealand LLWLL(last five completed matches, most recent first)
Australia WWWWW

In the spotlight

David Warner has deferred the obvious question to his ranking officer, Steve Smith. But nevertheless, his leadership in Smith’s absence of a dynamic T20 outfit has been eye-catching, and were he to lift the Trans-Tasman Trophy with a perfect five-out-of-five record, it would heighten the suspicion that, for all his stellar achievements in the Test arena this year, Smith’s time in the shortest format has expired. Both as a batsman and a captain, Warner has already been planning for the unique angular challenge of Eden Park’s short boundaries. How he clears them himself, and places his own fielders in turn, will be critical to the outcome.

It’s been a feast-and-famine fortnight for Warner’s New Zealand counterpart, Kane Williamson. One stunning performance, 72 from 46 balls against England in their Wellington victory, and three single-figure scores in his remaining games, including a grand total of nine runs from 23 balls for twice out against Australia. Williamson’s class cannot be disputed. But if New Zealand are to post the sort of total that can be defended against Australia’s rampant line-up, he’ll need to find his top gear from the outset.

Teams news

No changes anticipated to the New Zealand side that lost by two runs in their final group game against England. Mitchell Santner, who missed the last Auckland run-fest, will be back in the reckoning ahead of the hapless Ben Wheeler, who was spanked for 64 runs in 3.1 overs against Australia.

New Zealand (probable) 1 Martin Guptill, 2 Colin Munro, 3 Kane Williamson (capt), 4 Ross Taylor, 5 Mark Chapman, 6 Colin de Grandhomme, 7 Tim Seifert (wk), 8 Mitchell Santner, 9 Tim Southee, 10 Ish Sodhi, 11 Trent Boult

A settled and explosive line-up. It says something for Australia’s current depth that a player of the pedigree of Aaron Finch has had to find a niche at No.5 since his return from injury. It also says something that he has pounded 56 not out from 19 balls across his two innings to date.

Australia (probable) 1 David Warner (capt), 2 D’Arcy Short, 3 Chris Lynn, 4 Glenn Maxwell, 5 Aaron Finch, 6 Marcus Stoinis, 7 Alex Carey (wk), 8 Ashton Agar, 9 Andrew Tye, 10 Kane Richardson, 11 Billy Stanlake

Pitch and conditions

It’s been damp in Auckland recently, but the on-field fireworks haven’t exactly fizzled. Another run-laden batting track is anticipated, while the ground’s short straight boundaries will guarantee more runs – even from top-edges – than might be expected at more conventional venues. “You just have to suck it up a bit,” says Williamson. Not half.

Stats and trivia

  • Despite it being their favoured T20 venue, New Zealand haven’t enjoyed their recent visits to Eden Park. They have lost each of their last four T20s in Auckland, with last week’s Australia victory following wins for South Africa and Pakistan (twice).

  • Their group-stage clash in Auckland featured a world-record run-chase from Australia, but not a world-record aggregate. That accolade, by one run (489 to 488) remains with India’s victory over West Indies in Lauderhill in 2016.

Quotes

“There was nothing you could do. We tried to execute our yorkers, we did, they still went for four. A short-pitched ball went for six off a top edge. Those sorts of things, you’ve just got to stand there and laugh and smile, because it’s challenging when you’re at these small venues.”
David Warner reveals how he shrugged off New Zealand’s Auckland onslaught last week

“If we look back at that last game, the difference of half an over – or each ball – can be the deciding moment in a game.”
Kane Williamson takes his own lessons from the same game.



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