Australia have been favourites to win the 2015 Cricket World Cup for some time, and their status as the team most likely to life the trophy was recently enhanced after a convincing victory in the tri-series against England and India on home soil.
However, anyone who has cast more than a passing glance at New Zealand cricket over the past 18 months or so should know that the Black Caps’current side has more than enough firepower to match the Aussies, and has shown itself not only to be a more consistent team, but also one that is more adventurous, has more (understated) self-belief, and is more flexible than its cross-Tasman neighbors.
A New Zealand victory at Eden Park this Saturday—and a convincing one at that—should therefore surprise no-one.
The Black Caps’humiliation of England last week demonstrated that they have what it takes to win in one-day cricket—namely, bowling that is controlled and uses variety well, explosive batting when necessary and, perhaps most importantly, a captain who leads from the front and is always in the business of taking wickets, not simply containment.
Despite the fact that England’s batting performance in Wellington was so abject, Brendon McCullum’s display as skipper was simply outstanding, and in him New Zealand have a man who could turn out to be his country’s greatest ever captain. And this is saying something in a cricketing nation who has been blessed with some fine leaders, such as Geoff Howarth, Martin Crowe and Stephen Fleming—exceptional captains but, with the exception of Crowe, not in the first rank as cricketers. However, in McCullum, they have a leader who is not only a first-rate skipper but is also an elite player as well.
It wasn’t just his remarkable display with the bat against England, although that included some of the most mesmerizing batting ever seen in New Zealand. The numbers in this regard speak for themselves—the second highest strike rate ever (308.00) in a score of 50+, most sixes (7) in a World Cup innings batting second, fastest World Cup 50 and third fastest ever, almost 97% of his runs coming in boundaries. Unsurprisingly, the skipper is currently $2.63 to be New Zealand’s leading run scorer in the tournament (with Kane Williamson second at $3.25).
Rather, it was the way McCullum dictated the terms when England batted first that so caught the eye. His aggression when England was on the ropes was a sight to behold—when was the last time you saw four slips and a gully outside of the first 10 overs in an ODI? But this wasn’t ‘funky’captaincy for the sake of it, putting in an unusual field placing that has been worked out by the coaching staff on an iPad. Instead, McCullum read the developing situation and responded to it, as all good captains should do. The ball was swinging—not hugely, but enough—and he saw the uncertainty this produced in the England batsmen, and so he went for the jugular.
No captain in the international game today comes near to matching McCullum in his ability to manage his bowlers, respond to what the ball and pitch are doing, and set fields accordingly. He doesn’t captain by numbers, as so many do, but is alive to the circumstances at any given moment. This is his and New Zealand’s greatest strength and is ultimately what could see them triumph in this World Cup.
However, despite so much going right for the Black Caps, New Zealand remain at $4.00 to win the tournament, which still represents good value considering their recent form, although some sportsbooks such as 888, which CasinoKiwi.co.nz have reviewed very positively are offering even better odds.
Australia are odds-on favorites at $1.66 to win the upcoming clash between the tournament’s best two performers, but there is much that is in New Zealand’s favour. Australia won’t have played for two weeks after their washed out game against Bangladesh, the furore over Michael Clarke’s place and role in the side shows no signs of abating, and a bowling attack that has ferocity but is not necessarily suited to the slower in pitches in New Zealand all leave the tournament favorites vulnerable.
And Australia can be assured that, should there be even a glimpse of an opening, McCullum will make the most of it, exploiting his bowlers’talents and making runs hard to score. It looks set to be an enthralling clash.