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New Zealand out to bury the ghost of Australia in Twenty20 World Cup final

OPINION: The Twenty20 World Cup final is ‘Ghostbusters: The Sequel’ for the Black Caps.

After banishing some of the spectre of their 2019 one-day World Cup final loss to England in Abu Dhabi on Thursday, New Zealand are now faced with Australia as their final hurdle to what would be a remarkable triumph.

Along with a win would come another easing of the pain that haunts Black Caps fans – the bitter memories of the previous one-day World Cup final at the MCG in 2015.

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New Zealand went into that final with more momentum than the rolling ball in ‘Raiders of the Lost Ark’, to stay on the movie theme.

Grant Elliott’s six at Eden Park had launched them into the final with what truly felt like a team of five million riding their coat-tails. It had been a memorable tournament for the co-hosts – Martin Guptill had hammered a double-century against the West Indies in the capital, Tim Southee had rolled England earlier at the same venue and captain Brendon McCullum was a blazing inspiration at the top of the order.

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Then it was all punctured like a defenceless party balloon at the hands of tearaway toddlers after just three balls when Mitchell Starc knocked McCullum’s castle over.

While the Lord’s agony was still fresh before Jimmy Neesham and Daryl Mitchell blasted New Zealand into the final, the hurt from 2015 has lingered.

It was exacerbated by Australia’s three-test romp over NZ across the Tasman in the 2019/20 summer. That one-sided series is always brought up by critics when there’s a debate over whether the Black Caps have been the best team in world cricket in recent years.

Some of the resentment over Australia’s ‘superiority’ reaches all the way back to the middle of last century. After an innings and 103 run defeat by our trans-Tasman rivals in Wellington in 1946, Australian cricket didn’t deem their neighbours worthy of another test until 1973.

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The bitter taste developed into a full-on spat with the underarm delivery at the MCG in 1981 and from then on, an acrimonious history developed. It delivered such highlights and low blows as Sir Richard Hadlee’s nine-wicket innings haul and 15-wicket test bag at the Gabba four years later; the distrust of Australian wicketkeepers Greg Dyer and Brad Haddin; Danny Morrison’s lbw plea going unrequited by umpire Dick French; and Mitchell Johnson and Scott Styris butting heads in a feisty McLean Park meeting.

Now we’re set for another chapter to be added in the unlikely setting of Dubai, and NZ coach Gary Stead is happy for his charges to again carry the fighting underdog tag.

“A never-say-die attitude is something we pride ourselves on,” Stead said when reflecting on the manner of the victory over England and the job to be done against Australia, who overcame Pakistan with a carbon-copy finish.

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“We try and take these bigger teams down to the wire. In a way, it’s who can hold their nerve the best as well in the most-pressurised situation.

“They’ve got a bunch of guys who are match-winners, and we’re going to have to make sure our scouting, our planning is right on point.”

To say NZ have made the final via smoke and mirrors unfairly hides the quality which exists in the side.

Yet it hasn’t been a tournament of standout Black Caps players and blistering performances – rather a collection of consistent contributions from players knowing their roles and capable of producing under pressure, as Stead hinted.

It’s also a tournament where very few fancied Australia to make the final either.

They entered with a coach under pressure, an unsettled XI and, as always, one eye on an Ashes series.

But they, too, found ways to win without imposing themselves on the opposition, in a most un-Australian fashion.

Matthew Wade was their semifinal hero – not someone endeared by Black Caps fans. Or, well, many fans at all, as Jarrod Kimber writes on his Sports Almanac substack website: “Matthew Wade is pretty hated by, well, kinda everyone that isn’t on his side. He sledges, and looks at people with disdain most of the time. And I remember one international cricketer telling me that he had no right being that aggressive when he was so s…”

Seems inevitable he’s going to pop up in the trans-Tasman battle on Monday, right?

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