JOHANNESBURG: New Zealand will adopt a familiar role of underdogs when they confront title holders and hot favourites Australia on Monday (today) in the ICC Champions Trophy final.
Form and tradition are stacked against the ‘Black Caps’, but that will not concern skipper Daniel Vettori and his warriors ahead of the 50-over-a-side contest for a record two-million-dollar first prize in Centurion.
While New Zealand once again boxed well above their middleweight status to oust Pakistan by five wickets in the semifinals, the match never scaled the heights of 24 hours earlier when Australia crushed England by nine wickets.
The 247-run Australian batting master-class starring unbeaten Shane Watson and skipper Ricky Ponting surpassed the totals of Pakistan or New Zealand and sent a chilling message.
Australia have long been a Champions Trophy bogey team for their neighbours across the Tasman sea, winning the three previous meetings in the mini-World Cup with something to spare.
The victory margin was 164 runs seven years ago in Sri Lanka, seven wickets in England in 2004 and 34 runs in India three years ago when the tournament was last staged.
Not that records will concern Ponting, who passed the 12,000 ODI run mark in the rout of England and lies third behind a cricketer he admires so much, Indian Sachin Tendulkar, and Sri Lankan Sanath Jayasuriya.
The 34-year-old Tasmanian is a team man first and last and says he will reflect on personal achievements in a game he has graced for a decade and a half only when father time decides the bat must give way to a rocking chair.
“Respect every ball,” Ponting warned his team-mates ahead of the England slaughter and it will be no different against New Zealand at SuperSport Park just off the Johannesburg-to-Pretoria highway.
While resurgent Watson beamed after his 136 runs against England, the facial reactions of Ponting did not portray a man who had struck 111 and featured in a record Australian one-day stand.
It was great torturing old enemy England, but the mission was incomplete. Winning finals is what counts in the hyper-combative world of Ricky Thomas Ponting and he has two World Cups and a Champions Trophy to boast of.
Vettori is a great captain, too, and after a timid surrender to South Africa his team upset Sri Lanka by 38 runs, England by four wickets and Pakistan to reach their second final having beaten India in the 2000 Nairobi climax.
What the ‘Black Caps’ deliver is often far more than the sum of their parts and reached the final in spite of losing bowlers Daryl Tuffey and Jacob Oram and batsman Jesse Ryder to injury.
Australia had to reshuffle their pack as well after vice-captain Michael Clarke and star bowler Nathan Bracken caught the injury bug, but those left appear to have another all-round strength to celebrate come Monday night (tonight).