NZ hope for a final twist of fate

2009-10-05 00:00

TODAY’S Champions Trophy decider at Centurion pits two arch-adversaries against each other, but while one is walking wounded, the other is supposedly still in search of the “perfect game”.

Kiwi captain Daniel Vettori has taken great pride in dragging his depleted charges to the showpiece, but Ricky Ponting has already consigned Friday night’s demolition of England as just another step towards peaking at the right time.

Quite where his team can improve on the thrashing handed to England is hard to pinpoint, because they were at their bristling best on Friday.

“We had set ourselves the target of raising our standards for each game since the seven-match series in England,’ Ponting explained.

“Save for that one game against England at Durham, where the conditions got the better of us, we have been pretty much on target.

“I told the guys a while ago that it is pointless to play our best game early in the tournament. Ideally, you want to play your best cricket when the stakes are at their highest, and the final gives us that platform,” a determined Ponting added.

At 34, the classy right-hander has won just about everything, but this tournament has provided him with a fresh challenge.

“That core of experience we normally have is not here, with Nathan Bracken and Pup [Michael Clarke] injured, so the onus has been on myself and Brett Lee to lead from the front.

“When we came out to field against England I saw the right look on my team’s faces, and that is heartening as a skipper.”

Indeed, Australia fought fire with fire against an England team swinging from the hip.

“We leaked a few runs early on, but I told the bowlers to keep to the game plan and it worked out.”

While things are moving in the right direction for the Aussies, their Antipodean neighbours have had a constant headache over the last fortnight.

Already without lynchpin Jacob Oram, they have also lost the burly Jesse Ryder to injury, while vital cogs such as Grant Elliott and Daryl Tuffey are carrying niggles into every contest. In many ways, New Zealand’s advancement to the final is probably the most remarkable story of the tournament.

It is almost as if they have been carried through by fate. But here they are, in the final of a major trophy.

They were not given a cat in hell’s chance of leaving a mark in this event, but they have just refused to give up the ghost.

Along the way they have also finally rid themselves of the semi-final jinx in major events.

Vettori’s team scooped the Spirit of Cricket award at last Thursday’s ICC ceremony, and most of the headlines they made in the first week were around Vettori’s fair play in the heat of battle.

But do not for a second think that they will lack in mongrel when the bell rings this afternoon.

A final against Australia will render aches and pains a distant memory, because there is nothing that the Kiwis favour more than getting one over their “golden neighbours”.

“The one thing about this New Zealand side is that they’re fighters and they always fight for each other,” coach Andy Moles said after Saturday’s five-wicket triumph over Pakistan.

Fight they most certainly have, and they will face an almighty scrap against Ponting’s charges.

Vettori, who has grown into the subtle role of captaining a decent team that thrives on being the underdog, may sense that this is their best chance.

They are expected to lose; as they have been since they arrived in the country.

Tired and gutted by a tough tour of Sri Lanka, they have done remarkably well to get this far.

“There is a lot of determination in the group when we come to these tournaments,” Vettori said.

“We have always had a pretty good one-day team over the years. Now is the time for us to deliver a bit more than that.

“We know that when you get to this stage, it could be anyone’s day. We are just hoping that this one will be ours.”

Hope is a dangerous weapon in sport, but it has got the Black Caps this far. They will look for one last dose of the potent stuff tonight.

 

Teams

Australia (probable): 1 Shane Watson, 2 Tim Paine (wk), 3 Ricky Ponting (capt), 4 Michael Hussey, 5 Cameron White, 6 Callum Ferguson, 7 James Hopes, 8 Mitchell Johnson, 9 Brett Lee, 10 Nathan Hauritz, 11 Peter Siddle.

New Zealand (probable): 1 Brendon McCullum (wk), 2 Aaron Redmond, 3 Martin Guptill, 4 Ross Taylor, 5 Neil Broom, 6 Grant Elliot, 7 James Franklin, 8 Daniel Vettori (capt), 9 Kyle Mills, 10 Shane Bond, 11 Ian Butler.

On TV: Play Starts at 2.30 pm — live on SABC3 and SuperSport 2

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