Michael Clarke's decision to retire from one-day cricket raises the emotional pitch for the Australian team in Sunday's World Cup final. He's had his run-ins with the administration and a few in the dressing room too, but Clarke's been a popular leader with the current bunch he leads as well as fans.
His decision to quit may seem sudden, but in fact was not entirely unexpected. Clarke's been plagued by a back problem for the past couple of years and has chosen wisely to reduce his workload to prolong his career.
Can Clarke make his swan song into a winning rhapsody for his country?
That he has chosen Test cricket over ODIs is a matter of delight for traditionalists. The five day format needs succour, what with the huge impact T20 has had on spectatorship across the world in recent years. Clarke, they hope, will influence the next generation of cricketers to be interested in Tests too.
But that is in the future. On Sunday, what will matter is his form in unarguably the most important limited overs match played every four years. Can Clarke make his swan song into a winning rhapsody for his country?
While Clarke's career record (7907 runs at an average 44.42) is highly impressive, his performances in the World Cup have been disappointingly tepid with only 145 runs from six matches and only one half century to his name.
In the final, runs from Clarke's bat will be crucial. Right through the tournament, Australia's batting has looked somewhat suspect, and never more so in the league match against New Zealand, who they meet in the final, when they were bowled out for a paltry 149.
That they almost pulled off a win defending a small score is a different story. Since the final is being played in Melbourne, conditions will be vastly different from what they were when the two teams had played earlier in New Zealand, but it shows nonetheless that the Australian batting can come under deep pressure.
On form, the batting of both teams looks evenly matched. Australia have benefited from depth in line-up -- as seen in the semi-final against India. New Zealand - without having quite as many established stars, and have shown extraordinary flair and resilience in this tournament.
The bowling attacks of the two teams look even-stevens too. Left-armers Trent Boult and Mitchel Starc have been the outstanding fast bowlers of the tournament with their pace and swing. In Johnson and Hazlewood, Australia may have better pace support for Starc than what Southee and Milne/Martin provide Boult.
But in Dan Vettori, New Zealand have a seasoned and canny spinner who could well be the trump card in the match. Australia's spin resources are thin. Much will depend on how the MCG pitch plays, however.
Inevitably though, how the two teams handle the pressure of a final will decide the outcome. In this aspect, New Zealand have shown great resilience and ambition in this tournament, winning the two closest matches played yet: beating Australia (in the league stage) and South Africa (in the semi-final) in the last over.
Rivalry between the Trans-Tasman cousins, though not of the same flavour and passion as what exists between India and Pakistan, has always been intense nonetheless. There is a Big Brother syndrome at play, and New Zealand, smaller of the two countries, has a point to prove.
Under Brendon McCullum's brilliant leadership, New Zealand have played with amazing intrepidity and flamboyance; something usually associated with their rivals. Michael Clarke's final assignment in ODIs is to ensure that Australia are not beaten at their own game.
Players to Watch Out For:
Australia: Clarke, Smith, Starc, Maxwell
New Zealand: McCullum, Boutl, Guptill, Vettori
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