Nothing sums up the cricketing divide between Australia and New Zealand as the final ball of an otherwise forgettable one-day international at the Melbourne Cricket Ground in 1981.
With the series level at 1-1, Kiwi batter Brian McKechnie needed six off the last ball to tie the game. However Australian captain Greg Chappell told the bowler, his brother Trevor, to roll the ball along the ground, preventing any possibility of it being whacked over the boundary on the full.
Underarm bowling had been long-surpassed as part of cricket’s early origins but it had never actually been outlawed. Tellingly, that was changed in the limited-overs format due to Chappell’s tactics in this game.
There was an outcry, with the New Zealand Prime Minister describing it as “the most disgusting incident I can recall in the history of cricket". The Australians were in the firing line but they won the game and the series. New Zealand’s moral victory and the outpouring of sympathy did not count in the record books.
New Zealand’s World Cup and ODI background
A version of that story has played out over and over again in a cricketing rivalry that dates back to the 1930s. It took until 1985 for New Zealand to beat its near-neighbour in a Test in Australia, a victory spearheaded by all-rounder Richard Hadlee and batter Martin Crowe. They would win the series too.
Since then, the Kiwis have produced a number of excellent players such as Kane Williamson, Trent Boult, Daniel Vettori and Chris Cairns. But a country of just 5m will always struggle to produce enough strength in depth to be a consistent force in the Test game. When they surprised the cricket population by winning the inaugural World Test Championship in 2021 their financial resources were less than Surrey CCC, the richest English county.
In short-form cricket, New Zealand have threatened top honours in the past few decades but, crucially, without lifting either of two main trophies.
In the opening game of the 1992 World Cup at Eden Park, a century by Martin Crowe and three wickets from Glenn Larsen saw them beat Australia by 37 runs. However, four years later New Zealand looked likely to beat the old enemy when they met at the quarter-final stage, only for Mark Waugh became the first player to score three centuries at the World Cup with a match-winning knock in the six-wicket victory in Chennai.
There was no such drama when the two sides met in the 2015 World Cup final, again at the MCG. New Zealand were bundled out for 183 in 45 overs thanks to three wickets each from Mitchell Johnson and James Faulkner. Aaron Finch was out for a duck to give New Zealand hope in reply, but half-centuries from Steve Smith and Michael Clarke saw Australia cruise home by seven wickets.
In 2019, New Zealand went much, much closer. After 50 overs in the final at Lord’s, they were tied with England on 241 and they both scored 15 from the Superover with Martin Guptil run out going for a decisive second from the final ball. England won the trophy on boundary countback (26 fours and 2 sixes) compared to New Zealand’s (17 fours and 1 six). As Kiwi commentator Ian Smith said at the time it was a victory by “the barest of margins”.
The bulk of that Kiwi squad is in India for this tournament. Williamson, Boult, Lockie Ferguson and Jimmy Neesham were as important to the team in 2015 as they are now. But they are not getting any younger.
New Zealand are the ‘nearly men’ of limited-overs cricket. They have reached the semi-finals or final in eight of the 12 50-over World Cups and four of the eight 20-over versions but have yet to lift a title. Their only ODI success came in 2000 when they squeezed home against India in the ICC Champions Trophy with two balls to spare in Kenya.
Australia’s World Cup and ODI background
Australia are cut from a different cloth. Like, New Zealand, they have reached the final four in the 50-over World Cup eight times out of 12 but they have won it five times. They also won the 20-over version in 2021, guess who they beat in the final?
Overall, the boys in the ‘Baggy Green’ caps have won eight of their 11 meetings with New Zealand in the World Cup finals, including five of the six this millennium. And that solitary defeat, by one wicket when Australia so nearly defended their own paltry 151 all out, came in the group stages in Auckland in February 2015. As previously outlined, it was utterly avenged in the final.
Since a five-wicket defeat in Cardiff in 1999, Australia’s quintet of World Cup wins have come by big margins - 96 runs, 215 runs, seven wickets, seven wickets and 86 runs.
This is the last World Cup for David Warner. The 36-year-old intends to bow out from all forms of the game after the T20 version in 2024. His long-term top-order team-mate, Steve Smith, is only two years younger. Glenn Maxwell is the 34 too. We may not see them in the West Indies and the USA in four years’ time.
Josh Hazelwood (32) and Mitchell Starc (33) are a little younger but pace bowlers tend to have less longevity. It may mean Australia have to undertake a major overhaul in the 50-over version of the game. But that can wait for now. Starc remains central to Australia’s hopes in India. His economy rate has never been a strength but he takes wickets. His 27 scalps from 10 games was the highest tally at the 2019 World Cup, far ahead of second-place Lockie Ferguson on 21. Starc also topped the list in 2015 with 22.
Australia v New Zealand at the 2023 ICC World Cup
Midway through the group stages at this World Cup, Australian leg-spinner Adam Zampa led the wicket-taking tables with 12. He was one ahead of New Zealand’s Mitchell Santner, a slow left-hand bowler.
Australia looked lost when they were hammered in their first two games. The eight-wicket drubbing by India and 134-run defeat by South Africa have been offset by comfortable victories against Sri Lanka and Pakistan then securing the largest in winning margin in men's ODI World Cup history with a 309-run defeat of the Netherlands. Warner has 332 runs, the third-highest scorer overall but the only Australian batter with over 200 in the tournament.
New Zealand started the tournament with revenge, a nine-wicket crushing of England. They then swept past the Netherlands by 99 runs, Bangladesh by eight wickets and Afghanistan by 149 runs before losing to an India side who are playing like world champions-elect.
The hosts remain the side to beat overall. Along with South Africa, New Zealand and Australia are looking to push them all the way.
But, before all that, they must settle their local rivalry in the upcoming Australia vs New Zealand - 27th Match at Dharamshala.