Sydney : Australia captain Michael Clarke has added a fresh edge to Sunday’s blockbuster World Cup final against New Zealand in Melbourne by announcing the match will be his last one-day international.
“I think it’s the right time for me and the Australian cricket team,” the 33-year-old Clarke told reporters on Saturday.
“I made the decision 48 hours ago when I asked myself if I thought I would be playing in the next World Cup and I said to myself that ‘I don’t think I will be’,” added Clarke, whose career has been blighted by back and hamstring problems.
Clarke has played 244 one-day internationals, scoring 7,907 runs with a highest score of 130 since his debut in 2003.
He intends to keep playing Tests, however, having already featured in 108 matches, with 8,432 runs and a highest score of 329 not out.
New Zealand captain Brendon McCullum struck the first psychological blow when he named his team 24 hours before the final.
Unsurprisingly, the Black Caps retained the same side which edged out South Africa in the semi-finals.
“It’s captivated the country back home, it’s immensely satisfying but we have to build on it. Gee it would be nice to win it,” said McCullum at his pre-match news conference.
Meanwhile International Cricket Council chief executive David Richardson proclaimed the 2015 World Cup to be the “most-followed and best-attended cricket event in history”.
Among a plethora of statistics, the ICC cited a a crowd of 86,000 at the MCG for the India-South Africa pool match on February 22 — “a phenomenal result given that neither of the host teams were involved” — and that the official website had attracted 227 million page views as evidence of the tournament’s success.
New Zealand go into their first title clash in cricket’s 50-overs-a-side showpiece as the only unbeaten team in the tournament, having won eight games in a row.
One of those wins was against Australia in a low-scoring pool stage thriller in Auckland on February 28 when a Kane Williamson six off Pat Cummins helped them surpass a modest target of 152 with one wicket standing.
It was at the same Eden Park in Auckland that the Black Caps downed South Africa in a nerve-tingling semi-final on Tuesday with a penultimate-ball six by Grant Elliott.
– Rugby-mad nation –
New Zealand’s first semi-final win in seven attempts left an enthralled rugby-mad nation backing their cricketers to take home a trophy that has so far eluded them in the World Cup’s 40-year history.
Australia, the top-ranked side in ODI cricket, are bidding for a fifth World Cup title and will be favourites on home turf at the MCG, where New Zealand last played an ODI in 2009.
Clarke said the Black Caps may struggle to adjust to conditions at the 90,000 capacity ground after playing all their eight previous matches this tournament on their own grounds across the Tasman Sea.
“Conditions are a lot different to what New Zealand have been playing in New Zealand,” Clarke said after his team’s emphatic 95-run semi-final victory over defending champions India on Thursday.
However, New Zealand have defeated Australia in three of their last five ODIs at the MCG and their most recent appearance saw semi-final star Elliott’s unbeaten 61 fashion a six-wicket win with seven balls to spare after Australia had been restricted to 225 for five from 50 overs.
Opener Martin Guptill, who hit a World Cup record score of 237 not out against the West Indies, is just 10 runs away from surpassing Sri Lanka star Kumar Sangakkara’s tally of 541 to become the tournament’s leading run-getter.
Left-armer Trent Boult is the leading bowler in this edition with 21 wickets, one more than Aussie paceman Mitchell Starc, while seamer Tim Southee and veteran spinner Daniel Vettori have 15 wickets each.
The 36-year-old Vettori is likely to end his international career after Sunday’s final. AFP