It was a good day for Australian sport yesterday. First thing in the morning (our time) the Socceroos took on the World Champions, Germany, on their home turf. After going down 1 nil early in the first half they equalised shortly before the break. In the second half a clever free kick by Jedinak saw Oz go up a goal, a lead they held until about 10 minutes from the end, when Podolski equalised.
Would have been nice to win, but I’ll cop a draw in the circumstances, especially as the team was below full strength (which Germany were too).
Australian soccer is really coming on. I remember getting laughed at a few years back when I suggested the Socceroos would make the World Cup semi-finals within 20 years. I believe it though. There’s a huge groundswell of interest, and kids flocking to play. The standard of the game has been rising for years, but I expect a quantum leap in years to come. Match that with innate Australian competitiveness and ability to play tough in tournament play and I think it’s inevitable we will become a contender. Mark my words!
The other big event yesterday in fact epitomises the ability of Australian teams to thrive in tournaments. The cricket world cup ends on Sunday with the final at the MCG. We now know that it will be Australia taking on New Zealand.
On Wednesday New Zealand knocked off South Africa in Auckland in a classic match. Classic in so many ways. For a start the Kiwi’s won it by smashing a 6 from the second last ball of the match (by an expat Saffer). It was close and exciting all the way through, and in the balance right to the end.
It was classic also in ways that the South Africans are miserable about. In terms of World Cup cricket, and in fact any tournament cricket, South Africa are perennial under-achievers. Over the last 20 years they have been consistently the second best, and a few times, the best team in the world, yet I can’t think of any tournament trophy they’ve won in that time. They’re the absolute antithesis of Australia, which keeps winning, and occasionally from unlikely positions.
South Africa have been labelled chokers, and with some justification. It’s now become a thing, which of course makes it a lot worse. To be fair they’ve also been on the wrong end of some bizarre luck and misjudgement – the game in the 1992 world cup when Duckworth-Lewis adjusted the score so that they needed 22 off one ball; or in 2003, in another rain shortened match, where they did their sums wrong and finished 1 run short of their target.
But then there were the famous matches against Australia in the 1999 World Cup when they lost from a winning position, then only managed a tie in the semi-final when a win was there to be had. It’s a pattern that’s been repeated over the years since.
On Wednesday the rain intervened again, but they posted a very competitive score. New Zealand started big before South Africa struck back. Up to the 45th over it was 50/50 until New Zealand went ahead, and then South Africa. It was line-ball at the end, but the Kiwi’s, in front of an electric crowd, got up.
Fact is South Africa should have won. A great fielding side, they mucked up two run-out opportunities, then totally stuffed up a simple catch to dismiss Elliott, the man who hit the winning runs. These were clangers. Take advantage of one of them and they win; they missed all and lost. Was it choking? Not really, but I tend to think that the Saffers native intensity doesn’t serve them well in pressure situations. They break without bending. They want it too much, they grab when they should ease to it. And it’s not going to get any easier with the mounting weight of disappointed expectations on their shoulders. Another 4 years wasted.
Yesterday Australia took on India in Sydney. India had been undefeated throughout the tournament, and in fact had bowled out the opposition in every match. Australia has beaten them all summer though. If there’s one team that India fear then it’s Australia. That’s how it played out yesterday.
Oz posted a big score that looked like being bigger at one point. India replied with a racy start to their innings that looked ominous. Then bang, Australia did what it does best. It took quick wickets and then strangled the life out of a very meek India. No contest in the end, India bowled out before a disconsolate partisan crowd 95 runs short of the target. It’s like they’re mesmerised by Australia, and don’t believe in their heart of hearts that they can beat us. At the first sign of difficulty they freeze, and in effect give it away.
I’m pretty confident that Australia will win Sunday. New Zealand are a good team, but they’ve been playing on their pitches and on their small grounds, very different to the wide expanses and hard, dry pitch of the MCG. There’ll be extra bounce and a crowd full of Aussies. Different story if we were to play there – 50/50 then – but the conditions, and an Australian team peaking should be enough.
New Zealand need McCallum to play a big innings to be any real show. They’ve played exciting, dynamic cricket, and they’re a competitive outfit. Historically Australia has the wood over them, and even given their pluck they don’t have the pedigree of the Australian team.
This is what Australia does too. It’s never lost a world cup semi-final. They’ve made five world cup finals and won every one of them bar the first, and all by one by big margins. It’s going to end some day, but it’s a rare Australian team that doesn’t approach the pointy end of the competition without confidence. Come the day Australia are all over it. Touch wood.