MELBOURNE: Australia and New Zealand were anxiously awaiting the start of Sunday’s cricket World Cup final at the Melbourne Cricket Ground, one of the sport’s spiritual homes.
Around 90,000 fans were expected to attend the match while millions more will watch on television as the two neighbours and great sporting rivals battle it out for cricket’s greatest prize.
The sense of anticipation at the sprawling stadium was evident hours before the start of the match with rival supporters dressed in gold Australian shirts and Black New Zealand tops.
The final is the culmination of a tournament that began in mid-February with 14 teams and will now be played between the two tournament co-hosts.
Australia have won the World Cup a record four times, including three in a row between 1999 and 2007, but have never won on home soil.
For New Zealand, it is their first appearance in the final after losing in the semi-finals six times before. They made it to the decider after beating South Africa in a thriller at Eden Park last Tuesday.
Unbeaten in eight matches at home, including a win over Australia in the group stage, they nevertheless go into the final as underdogs against their trans-Tasman rivals.
“There is no challenge which is insurmountable,” New Zealand captain Brendon McCullum said on the eve of the match.
“With a lot of hard work, lot of heart, lot of belief and make sure that everyone’s heading in the same direction you’re able to play a brand of cricket that gives you your greatest chance.
“And that’s what we’ve had throughout this World Cup and we’ve built over a period of time.
“It doesn’t guarantee you success, but it gives you the greatest chance.”
For the Australian captain Michael Clarke, a World Cup winner in 2007, the match will be his last One Day International after he said he was retiring after the game.
Despite losing to New Zealand in the pool phase, Australia go into the final as heavy favourites after easily beating the defending champions India in the semi-finals.
“I believe if we play our best, we can beat New Zealand. I don’t buy into the favourites or not favourites,” Clarke said.
“New Zealand have been the form team of the competition (and) …have beaten us once in this tournament.
“But I’m confident if we play our best, we can beat them.”