DUBAI: On Sunday, there will be a new name on the ICC Men’s T20 World Cup after New Zealand take on Australia in an all-Antipodean final in Dubai.
Both sides finished second in the Super 12s in their respective groups, with Australia losing to England and New Zealand falling to Pakistan. However, in two quality semi-finals, both teams defeated the Super 12 group winners and the two favourites going into the final four.
The Black Caps pulled off a thrilling run-chase against England in Abu Dhabi, before Australia stunned Pakistan in Dubai to set up a final that no one really expected.
It is a rivalry that has often favored Australia in knockout matches, rather than New Zealand, with the Black Caps last win against their neighbors in a knockout match coming in 1981. In the 40 years since, Australia have come out on top on no less than 16 occasions.
In 2015, the sides met in the 50-over World Cup Final, with Australia winning comprehensively.
Six years later, both sides will enter the Dubai International Stadium with the aim of winning a first ever Men’s T20 World Cup for their countries.
When asked what makes the Trans-Tasman rivalry so special in the pre-match press conference, Australia captain Aaron Finch said: “Both teams have got a great history in cricket and it’s a great relationship. We play quite a bit against New Zealand now and we always have great battles regardless of the format.”
Finch added: “It’s bloody exciting to be playing against New Zealand. They’re a great team, led superbly by Kane Williamson.”
Williamson, the New Zealand skipper, was on the same wavelength, and said: “The fact that we are neighbors creates a bit of that rivalry, in a number of different sports as well. It’s always a great occasion when we play each other so both teams are really excited at that prospect tomorrow.”
Neither side were genuinely regarded as strong contenders pre-tournament and this is by all means a final between two teams that were not expected to reach the final. Yet, they have both peaked at the right time and the game promises to be a gripping and evenly matched contest.
Finch insists that Australia always believed they could win the competition, despite losing five games in a row going into the tournament and then getting thrashed by England in the Super 12s. They had a few days off after that game to regroup and freshen up, before going on a four-game winning streak, leading into the final.
“What we talked about during that time was staying really committed to being aggressive. We felt as though in that game we were probably just a little bit timid,” Finch said.
“Everyone had written us off but we had a lot of confidence with the way we were preparing and our strategy was coming together. We came here with a clear plan to try to win this tournament. We always felt as though we’ve got the depth of the squad and the quality in our squad to put ourselves in a position to do that.”
The Black Caps have often been seen as underdogs, but Finch is aware of the quality within their ranks, saying: “They are a great team over all three formats of the game. They are a team that can never be underestimated. Maybe people on the outside do. Certainly inside, we don’t. They have got firepower, they have got experience and they have got class.”
Likewise, Williamson was full of praise for the Australians. “As a side, they have got a lot of match winners, and you know, I think that’s a large part of the strength in their team throughout. They have got world-class cricketers,” he said.
For New Zealand, it is a remarkable prospect to potentially add the World Cup to the ICC World Test Championship that they won back in June and that is certainly something that excites Williamson and his men.
However, he insists that the team are treating it as “just another game.”
Williamson said: “It would be some achievement to win. But where it stands at the moment is that there’s a game of cricket to play, and for us, it’s focusing on that and focusing on our cricket and looking to go out there and implement those things that are important to us.
“The side has been operating well as a collective and playing for each other. We want to bring our focus to the cricket that we want to play and make sure that that’s the most important thing, and go out there, enjoy the occasion and take it on in our style.”
Either way, it promises to be a thriller.