Trans-Tasman rivalry plays out in the UAE as cricket awaits new T20 world champion

Australia have peaked at the right time, while New Zealand are the pre-eminent side in the game across formats

Twenty-seven days ago, Australia and New Zealand played a low-key warm-up match at Tolerance Oval in Abu Dhabi in front of almost literally two men and a dog.

The Abu Dhabi Cricket facilities and operations director’s pet Yorkipoo, named Odin, was among a select few who were treated to a thrilling, penultimate-ball finish that night.

For the record, Australia won that one by three wickets, after a final-over assault on Tim Southee by Mitchell Starc and Josh Inglis.

As enjoyable as that fare was, few who were there to see it could have anticipated the two sides being reunited, the best part of a month later, when the T20 World Cup reaches its conclusion.

Expect the audience to be slightly inflated on what it was that night in the capital when the two sides meet in the final at Dubai International Stadium on Sunday night.

Sure, the viewing figures might not be quite what they would have been had Pakistan made it through their semi-final. Or even what it might have been had India actually turned up for this tournament and made a run to the end of it.

But New Zealand and Australia showed during their rousing – and almost identical – performances in their last-four encounters that they are most deserving finalists.

“Everyone had written us off but we really had a lot of confidence within,” Aaron Finch, Australia’s captain, said ahead of the final.

“We were really confident the way we were preparing and the way our strategy was coming together.

“It hasn’t defied expectations. We came here with a very clear plan to win the tournament and we feel like we have to squad to do that.”

Standing in their way is surely the pre-eminent side in world cricket. A side who still manage to go about their business largely anonymously, despite being the current world Test champions, and having played in each of the past two World Cup finals in the 50-over format.

Going one better than those two runners-up finishes might even earn New Zealand some hyperbole for once. Not that it would ever emanate from the mouth of their captain, Kane Williamson, of course.

“It would be some achievement, but where it stands at the moment is there is a game of cricket to play,” Williamson said of the chance of being simultaneously the champions of international cricket’s longest and shortest formats.

“For us it is about focusing on us and focusing on our cricket, and looking to implement the things that are important to us.”

Neither side have won the T20 crown before. The final is a reprisal of the 2015 50-over World Cup final, which Australia won in Melbourne against their tournament co-hosts.

“Both teams have a great history, not just in cricket but as neighbours down under,” Finch said.

“It is a great relationship. We have played quite a bit against New Zealand now and we always have great battles no matter the format.

“It is exciting to be playing against New Zealand. They are a great team, led superbly by Kane Williamson.

“It is just one of those things that both teams seem to have found their way into each other’s path along the way.”

Finch reiterated that, even though his side were not much talked about before the tournament’s start, they fully believed they were capable of success.

And, he said he is not surprised by the identity of the opposition, either.

“New Zealand have been in every final in every ICC tournament, they are a great team over all three formats of the game,” Finch said.

“They are a team that can never be underestimated but maybe people do. Certainly in our side we don’t.

“They have firepower, experience and class, so I’m not surprised [they are in the final] one bit.”

Updated: November 13th 2021, 4:23 PM
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