What to Watch in the Cricket World Cup final
MELBOURNE, Australia (AP) The Cricket World Cup final on Sunday will feature the tournament co-hosts and traditional sports rivals Australia and New Zealand. The Australians have won four World Cup titles from six previous finals.
New Zealand lost the first six World Cup semifinals it played before finally beating South Africa in Auckland to reach the championship match for the first time, taking an unbeaten eight-game winning streak on the road to Australia.
Here are some things to watch at the Melbourne Cricket Ground on Sunday:
LEADING FROM THE FRONT: One is on the verge of retirement, the other possibly on the brink of history. They're both 33, they've both played about the same number of one-day internationals going back over 13 years.
Michael Clarke will captain Australia into the final, his second in a World Cup. He was part of the winning team in the Caribbean in 2007, and has said the final, his 245th ODI, will be his last in the 50-over format.
Brendon McCullum is more of a risk-taker as skipper, an asset for his team of underdogs who has taken New Zealand to the World Cup final for the first time.
''I certainly don't see it as a Michael versus me final. It's Australia versus New Zealand, and I'm sure that's where all the focus will be,'' McCullum said before Clarke said Sunday would be last one-day match.
Clarke said his pending move away from the 50-over format wouldn't be a distraction, either.
''It's not emotion, it's skill that helps you win major games and major tournaments, and tomorrow will be no different,'' he said.
THIS ONE'S FOR MARTIN: McCullum hopes the team's performance on Sunday will honor Martin Crowe, captain of the New Zealand team that reached the 1992 World Cup semifinals. Crowe is terminally ill and fears the final may the last cricket match he sees.
In a column for a cricket-dedicated website on Saturday, Crowe said: ''Without question, this will be the personal cricketing highlight of my life. My precarious life ahead may not afford me the luxury of many more games to watch and enjoy. So this is likely to be it. The last, maybe and I can happily live with that.''
McCullum said the former skipper had played a vital role in mentoring New Zealand batsmen Martin Guptill and Ross Taylor, whom Crowe described in Saturday's column for Cricinfo as ''the two sons I never had.''
''What he's going through at the moment is incredibly difficult,'' McCullum said. ''He seems to have really found peace with himself and the game as well, and he's been instrumental in helping some of our guys peel back their games and really focus on being able to develop individually.''
KABOOM: It's the name of the bat, and it's the sound that it makes when David Warner whacks the ball with it. With the likes of Warner and Glenn Maxwell in the Australian batting lineup, and with Brendon McCullum and Martin Guptill leading the way for New Zealand, there's been a blizzard of boundaries and sixes at the World Cup.
With fielding restrictions in place during batting power plays, and with some short boundaries at some venues, the batsmen have had the upper hand in most games. But the larger dimensions of the Melbourne Cricket Ground, a venue which can host 90,000 fans and is one of the most iconic venues in the game, has led to speculation that there'll be fewer sixes in the final. The discussion has led to some buzz on social networks, with the hashtag MCGsobig getting some traction earlier in the week.
New Zealanders have twice hits sixes to win matches - with Kane Richardson clearing the boundary to seal the one-wicket win over Australia in the pool stage and Grant Elliott hitting a six on the next-to-last ball to guide New Zealand over South Africa in the semifinal at the same venue.
McCullum said he's not planning on changing his aggressive ways, and will be looking to go over the field whenever he can to score runs, saying ''it would be silly to change.''
This World Cup has featured the first two double-centuries ever posted at the tournament - Guptill belting 237 not out in the quarterfinal win over West Indies and Chris Gayle scoring 215 in a pool win for the West Indies against Zimbabwe in Canberra. There were also seven scores in excess of 150 and 38 centuries.
RIDING THE WAVE: Nobody can dispute the All Blacks' spot atop the New Zealand sports hierarchy. The national rugby team is globally recognized and has twice won the World Cup. The cricket team has languished in the shadows, until this World Cup.
''It's a pretty amazing ride,'' McCullum said. ''We know when the World Cup is over we'll sort of return a little bit to where things were.
''But at the moment we'll just try to embrace the fan following and what we've been able to achieve for New Zealand. I think it's captivated the country back home.''