It would have taken a person braver than myself to predict that trans-Tasman rivals New Zealand and Australia would contest Monday morning’s (NZT) final. Neither side has had their name etched on the trophy in six previous editions of cricket’s shortest format World Cup, with Australia’s 2010 final loss to England in Bridgetown, Barbados the closest either side has come. From a New Zealand perspective though, these are giddy times. Built on the foundation laid by the McCullum-Hesson era side that lost the 2015 ODI World Cup final, Kane Williamson and Gary Stead have turned New Zealand cricket into a legitimate force.
This now marks three consecutive ICC finals that they’ve featured in, with the heartbreak of 2019’s ODI World Cup final loss at Lord’s starting to slowly transform into a footnote, buried in a flowerbed now resplendently abloom with the success of the World Test Championship triumph and this weekend’s T20 World Cup final. Those successes are reflected in the ICC rankings too, with New Zealand currently ranked top of the test and ODI ladders, while currently 4th in T20 (Australia are ranked 6th, for what it’s worth).
That they’ve achieved such success across all three formats, with a never before seen depth of talent in New Zealand, is testament to not only the culture built within the Black Caps, but also the structures in place below that in domestic and age group cricket. Indeed, only captain Kane Williamson and Trent Boult will have featured in all three of the finals played, with 21 total players used (assuming Tim Seifert replaces the injured Devon Conway). Whether or not New Zealand prevails on Monday morning remains to be seen, but here are what I perceive to be the five keys:
1. The Toss
Sadly, it matters. The team that won the toss in both semifinals prevailed, with batting second the astute choice in the evening games, thanks to dew helping quicken up the often slow UAE pitches.
The chasing team has won 11 of 12 matches in Dubai, with Scotland coming up short against New Zealand in a day game. In all 8 night matches in Dubai, the chasing team has won, with not a single game going to the final over. Included in those results was New Zealand’s emphatic win over India, as well as Australia’s semifinal triumph.
- Mitchell Santner
There’s been plenty of chatter about New Zealand’s left arm orthodox spinner, particularly after he bowled just one over in the semifinal win over England. That was clearly a result of playing matchups though, as Santner was shielded from bowling to the left-hand heavy top order, and nullified by Dawid Malan and Moeen Ali’s significant partnership. As a result, Jimmy Neesham and Glenn Phillips combined to complete the 5th bowler’s 4 overs. I’d expect Santner to play a key role though against Australia.
For starters, there’s no doubt about his place in the side, as New Zealand’s third highest ranked T20 bowler behind Tim Southee and Ish Sodhi at 19th in the rankings, and his ability with the bat in the middle to lower order is also of use. In terms of matchups though, this is where Santner could expect to thrive. The Dubai wicket should favour turn more than Abu Dhabi, as evidenced in the Australia vs Pakistan semifinal where spin was used for 15 of the 39 overs. The combined figures of Glenn Maxwell, Adam Zampa, Imad Wasim, Shadab Khan and Mohammad Hafeez saw those 15 overs yield 5 wickets for 106 runs (7.06 per over); 13 of which came off Hafeez’s lone over. Santner has also enjoyed success against Australia in 7 previous matches, having taken 9 wickets at an average of 19.55 and an economy rate of 6.99. There should be no issue of worrying about left handers either, with only David Warner and Matthew Wade batting left handed amongst Australia’s top 8 (unless they spring a surprise and include Ashton Agar for the final).
- New Zealand’s top order
Daryl Mitchell’s rise as an opener has been a revelation, but it’s also papered over what’s been a rather indifferent display with the bat this tournament from the Black Caps. All of the top 6 have contributed in fits and starts, but it’s hard to be full of confidence given the lack of dominant batting displays. Mitchell leads the run chart for New Zealand with 197 and Martin Guptill, helped by his 93 against Scotland, is just behind with 180.
It’s a drop off after that though, with Kane Williamson’s 131 runs only good for 24th best in the tournament and now injured Devon Conway with 129. Given Conway’s absence, the pressure will be heavily placed on the openers and the captain, with Glenn Phillips, Jimmy Neesham and likely Tim Seifert then asked to offer more. The tail appears a touch long with Santner at 7 and then four genuine bowlers, which only adds further pressure to the top six.
- Steve Smith and Glenn Maxwell
Comparatively, you’d argue Australia boast a batting lineup with a little more depth. Their top three has carried them most of the tournament though, with David Warner’s 236 runs good for 4th best in the tournament, while Aaron Finch and Mitchell Marsh (from just 5 games) have also gone past the 100 run tally. Behind the top three is where Australia have been vulnerable. Steve Smith and Glenn Maxwell have had tournaments to forget, with 69 and 36 runs respectively and both scoring at slower than a run a ball.
Few would argue about the ability of these two players, but if New Zealand can pick up wickets in the Powerplay, then Smith and Maxwell will need to step up. Marcus Stoinis and Matthew Wade bailed them out in the semifinal, but Australia won’t want to be reliant on their finishers having to contribute so many runs in back to back matches.
The toss aside, there’s no doubt that luck plays a factor and both teams will be hopeful that the marginal moments tilt their way in the final. The short, sharp nature of T20 cricket makes each little moment all the more meaningful, and we saw that in action in both semifinals. Had Jonny Bairstow released the catch on the boundary a split-second earlier, or had Shaheen Shah Afridi’s first over LBW appeal been given out (it was reviewed and stayed not out on umpire’s call), then perhaps we’d be looking at a completely different final fixture.
These little moments – an inside edge past the stumps, a close umpiring decision, a spliced shot looping between fielders, a deflected overthrow (sorry!) – can often prove pivotal in close games. You just hope that your side gets the majority of them.
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