MELBOURNE, Australia (AP) Win or lose, Michael Clarke and his Australian teammates are probably going to be portrayed as the bad guys after the Cricket World Cup final against New Zealand.
The New Zealanders have been the story of the World Cup, winning all eight games on the way to the final, including a one-wicket win over four-time champion Australia in the pool stage.
The Black Caps are peaking for the tournament which the countries are co-hosting – and providing the vibrant, enterprising cricket that has grabbed most of the attention.
Top-ranked Australia, appearing in its seventh World Cup final and playing at home on the Melbourne Cricket Ground, is the logical favorite. But it’s likely the supporters of South Africa, India, Pakistan, England, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Zimbabwe, the Caribbean and most neutrals will be cheering for Brendon McCullum’s New Zealanders, who finally reached a championship match after losing at the semifinal stage six times.
For most Australians, a loss to New Zealand would be considered cause for recriminations of some kind.
There’s an element of Big Brother-Little Brother in the relationship between the neighboring countries, with Australia usually assuming the dominant role unless it involves rugby union.
Sentiment isn’t a factor for Clarke, who was stung by the one-wicket loss in Auckland and is determined to avoid another one.
”That was the turning point in this tournament for the Australian team. Losing to New Zealand gave us that kick up the backside,” the Australian captain, speaking after a 95-run semifinal win over 2011 champion India, said of the one-wicket loss in Auckland. ”We knew we got a good look at a very good team playing at the top of their game and I think our attitude from that day has been exceptional.
”The boys have got out of bed every single day to try and become better, and I think you’ve seen that in our results.”
Australia had a dominant running leading into the World Cup, beating India in a test series and accounting for the Indian squad and England in a limited-overs tri-series. Australia opened the World Cup with another comprehensive win of England, had to share the points in a washed-out match against Bangladesh, and then had the loss in New Zealand after being bowled out for 151.
The Australians rebounded with a World Cup record win over Afghanistan and beat 1996 champion Sri Lanka and Scotland to finish off the group stage before knockout wins over Pakistan and India.
The Australians traveled Friday from Sydney to Melbourne, where the New Zealand squad has been in camp since Wednesday – in the wake of its thrilling, next-to-last-ball win over South Africa in the semifinals.
While the players were regrouping, Cricket Australia chief executive James Sutherland took the chance to praise the squad for the way it recovered following the death of Phillip Hughes, who never regained consciousness after being struck by a ball during a domestic match in November at the SCG.
”We’ve come from the depths of depression, I suppose, from where we were in November,” Sutherland told the Australian Associated Press. ”It was a very difficult time and every credit to the players and the way that they’ve responded and gotten on with their job, without in any way forgetting their grief.
”So we’re here and congratulations on the great effort they’ve put in – all that hard work.”
Sutherland said a final between the co-hosts was fitting, coming shortly before the 100th anniversary of the Gallipoli landing where Australian and New Zealand troops forged the ANZAC tradition in World War I.
”It’s all come together and I think there’s some extra-special significance, given it’s only a few weeks before the two countries commemorate the centenary of ANZAC,” he said. ”It’s one of the really special ties between our two countries.”