FAST bowler Tim Southee says that after reaching the Cricket World Cup final for the first time and with their most well-rounded limited-overs team ever assembled, New Zealand are ready for “one more big push” to beat Australia and write a new chapter in their history.
Southee said New Zealand allowed themselves a day to celebrate the dramatic semi-final win over South Africa which carried them into tomorrow’s final in Melbourne, and had now “parked” the memory of that match. Playing in a World Cup final, particularly against Australia in Australia, was his “dream come true”.
“As a kid growing up you either wanted to be an All Black or a Black Cap and this is as good as it gets,” said Southee. “I’m sure the guys are very excited to fulfil a childhood dream.”
Southee said New Zealand captain Brendon McCullum “speaks a lot about it being the time of our lives and the last couple of months we wouldn’t replace for anything. We never wanted it to end, we’ve made it last as long as we possibly can and one more big push and the guys will remember it forever.”
Southee spoke of a sporting rivalry with Australia in which New Zealand was always “the little brother”. He was asked whether the final was about winning the respect of a fierce sporting rival whose attitude to New Zealand cricket has always contained a note of condescension.
“In times gone by we haven’t played to our potential or been as consistent as we should have been,” he said. “We respect Australia, they’re a quality side and they’re not No 1 in the world for no reason. But I’m sure we’ve gained a bit of respect for the brand of cricket we’ve played over the last couple of years.”
Win or lose, Michael Clarke and his Australian team-mates are probably going to be portrayed as the bad guys after the final. 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 champions Australia in the pool stage and providing the vibrant, enterprising cricket that has grabbed most of the attention.
For most Australians, a loss to New Zealand would be considered cause for recriminations of some kind. Clarke was stung by the defeat 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 said after their semi-final win over India. “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 opened the World Cup with a comprehensive win over England, had to share the points in a washed-out match against Bangladesh, and then lost to New Zealand after being bowled out for 151. They then rebounded with a World Cup record win over Afghanistan and beat 1996 champions Sri Lanka and Scotland to finish off the group stage before knockout wins over Pakistan and India.
While the players were regrouping after their semi-final win, Cricket Australia chief executive James Sutherland took the chance to praise the squad for the way they recovered following the death of Phillip Hughes, after he was 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,” said Sutherland.
“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.”
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