Martin Guptill lit up Wellington with the highest score in World Cup history. Eden Park erupted when Grant Elliott launched Dale Steyn for a match-winning six, as it had when Kane Williamson did the same off Pat Cummins. Brendon McCullum has batted like a man who thinks this is five-over cricket, not fifty-over. But for all the batting thrills, it has been New Zealand’s bowlers who have shone most consistently in this tournament.
The batsmen will need to adjust to the large dimensions of the MCG during Sunday’s World Cup final against Australia, but the World Cup’s most reliable all-round attack will have to adapt as well. New Zealand have the leading wicket taker of the tournament – Trent Boult with 21 wickets at 15.76 – and the equal leading spinner, Daniel Vettori with 15 at 18.80. Tim Southee and Corey Anderson make it four of the top 12 wicket takers.
They are the only team that has not conceded a 300-plus total in this World Cup, although South Africa were on the way to ending that run when rain halted their progress in the semi-final. The MCG’s drop-in pitch might be unfamiliar to some of the New Zealand bowlers and the vast expanses of outfield can be harder to protect, but Southee was confident the attack would be able to transfer their success across the Tasman.
“A bit of swing would be nice, but it hasn’t swung for us in every game and we’ve found ways to take wickets,” Southee said at the MCG on Friday. “I think that’s the beauty of our attack. We’ve got variety to it, and if it does swing we do become a bit more dangerous. But we have found ways to take wickets when it’s not swinging.
“One of our strengths is we’ve adapted to the conditions. We’re familiar with the conditions in New Zealand but they have been different in the various grounds we’ve played at. We’ve managed to adapt as the game goes on and what the wicket has thrown at us. It doesn’t change here. If we see something we’ll try to adapt as the game goes on.”
Southee has played at the MCG before but it will be a first for his new-ball partner Boult, whose swing and accuracy destroyed Australia at Eden Park earlier in the tournament. Given his success in this campaign it is remarkable to think that Boult was not a regular in the ODI side at the start of the summer, and had played only 16 one-day internationals before the World Cup began.
But Australian conditions are not entirely foreign to Boult, for hisinternational debut came at Bellerive Oval four years ago, when he swung the ball and dried up the runs to help deliver a triumphant Test victory over Australia. It was the same series in which Mitchell Starc made his Test debut and while Starc’s greatest success has come in ODIs, Boult was largely viewed as a long-form player.
“It was a matter of time before he became a more permanent fixture in the one-day side,” Southee said. “He’s just grown another leg and what he’s done over the last couple of months has been amazing. He just keeps getting better and better.
“It’s great to bowl alongside him, knowing that you have someone to rely on at the other end who’s going to do a great job and keep the pressure on the batsmen. We have a great partnership and a good friendship off the field. I can’t express how proud I am and what he’s done over the last couple of months.”
The success of a swing and seam attack led by Boult has perhaps overshadowed the other key member of the New Zealand attack throughout this campaign, with Vettori going about his business quietly and effectively as he has done for nearly two decades. His unflappable nature was on display with a stunning catch in the quarter-final against West Indies and when he was at the crease at the end of the semi-final win over South Africa.
He was also responsible for turning the match against Australia when Brendon McCullum looked to him as early as the seventh over of the game. Vettori immediately slowed Australia’s scoring rate and picked up two important wickets in what became an intense, low-scoring contest. It would not be a surprise if Vettori is again called on early in the final.
The size of the ground will make it difficult for Australia to get after Vettori, although that in turn might affect his ability to take wickets. If they believe they cannot clear the boundary off him, the Australians are likely to nudge Vettori around and show him the respect that he has earned from previous encounters.
In his six previous ODIs against Australia at the MCG, Vettori has gone for only 3.98 runs per over but he has also claimed only four wickets. It will take a brave batsman to attempt to join Ricky Ponting as the only Australian ever to have hit Vettori for a six at the MCG.