/ 28 April 2007

World Cup final ‘just another game’

To captain Ricky Ponting and his all-conquering Australia team, the World Cup is another box to tick.

Pace-bowler Glenn McGrath, facing his last match before retirement, describes Saturday’s final against Sri Lanka as business as usual, while opposition captain Mahela Jayawardene aims to convince his players it’s not even a final.

So, after 47 days of action in eight different locations, the long-awaited last game for the World Cup title comes down to this: just another game.

After winning the International Cricket Council Champions Trophy and the Ashes Test series, Ponting’s team are the overwhelming favourite to beat Sri Lanka in Saturday’s final at Barbados’ Kensington Oval to reinforce their standing as the world’s best team.

”These were the three big ones we had pencilled in at the start of the cricket year for us,” Ponting said. ”We’ve ticked two of those boxes now and we’d like to think we’re well enough prepared and ready to go to tick that third box tomorrow [Saturday].”

The ninth World Cup final is Australia’s opportunity to win an unprecedented third straight title, stretch their winning streak in the competition to 23 games and 29 without a loss, and give a fitting farewell to McGrath.

‘Business as usual’

Having already marked his Test-cricket retirement with a last-ball wicket against England, McGrath will want to finish with a winner’s medal against Sri Lanka.

”It just feels like another day at the office. Business as usual,” McGrath said on Friday. ”The fact that it is going to be my last game, I’m not sure when or if it’s going to hit me. Maybe even after the game tomorrow, but right now I feel just the same as in every other game I’ve played.”

With 563 wickets in Test cricket, more than any other fast-bowler, and 380 in 249 one-day internationals, the former sheep shearer aims to cut through the Sri Lankan batting order on Saturday and then hand the ball over for the last time.

Jayawardene hopes to avoid being one of his victims.

While acknowledging the strengths of an Australia line-up that has won all 10 games here by big margins, he says Ponting’s team is not unbeatable.

”They’re all human. In 100 overs, people make mistakes and we need to capitalise on that,” said Jayawardene, who scored an unbeaten 115 in Sri Lanka’s semifinal victory over New Zealand. ”To play them, you have to be competitive from the first over. They really do come hard at you in the first hour or so.”

Sri Lanka, who won the World Cup before Australia’s streaks began, hopes to win the title back and three of its 1996 stars — Sanith Jayasuriya, Chamina Vaas and master spinner Muttiah Muralitharan — are back to try to repeat their triumph from Lahore, Pakistan.

Sticking to the basics

Jayawardene, however, wants to avoid the big occasion getting to some of his younger players.

”There’s a lot of hype about this match, especially back home, but we need to stick to our basics,” he said. ”As long as we do that and enjoy ourselves, that’s how we express ourselves the best. For us it’s all about being another game. It’s not a final, it’s just another game against Australia. We need to win it, that’s all.”

It’s another big day, however, for umpire Steve Bucknor, who will take charge of his fifth straight World Cup final.

”It is a dream come true,” said Bucknor, who will partner Aleem Dar from Pakistan. ”I was happy knowing I was umpiring in a Cricket World Cup in the Caribbean, and now being asked to stand in the final again makes it even more special.”

The fact that the 60-year-old Jamaican has made so many appearances in the final shows the failure of the West Indies to have an impact in cricket’s premier one-day tournament.

Umpires from nations who compete in the final can’t take part in the match. Bucknor’s five appearances in a row means the West Indies haven’t been in a final since 1983. In the early days, they used to dominate like Australia do now, winning the title in 1975 and 1979 and losing the 1983 final to India. — Sapa-AP