While Australia pursue a clean sweep, New Zealand have plenty to ponder. © Getty Images

While Australia pursue a clean sweep, New Zealand have plenty to ponder. © Getty Images

The last time Australia and New Zealand met at the Melbourne Cricket Ground in a One-Day International was the final of the 2015 World Cup. There was a lot at stake on that occasion, and the home side eventually eased to the trophy. This time around, there isn’t as much at stake – the destination of the Chappell-Hadlee Trophy has been decided, Australia boasting an unassailable 2-0 lead. The final ODI on Friday (December 9) is, for all intents and purposes, a dead rubber.

That said, both sides have their agendas. Australia have bounced back commendably from what was a difficult 2-1 home loss to South Africa in the Tests. Even the build-up to the ongoing series was less than ideal, what with the whole controversy surrounding Glenn Maxwell’s comments on Matthew Wade, which would have affected team morale.

Two victories since have gone a long way to boosting the morale, though. Both were hugely dominant performances – Steven Smith’s 164 powered them to a 68-run win in the first ODI in Sydney, and the following game in Canberra was even more one-sided, David Warner scoring a century as Australia posted 378 for 5 before restricting New Zealand to 262 for a 116-run victory. The mood in the Australian camp is now markedly different from when the series started.

Darren Lehmann, the Australia coach, was mindful of how quickly things had changed, and could relate to New Zealand’s current state of mind. “I think they’ve got world-class players,” he said. “When you get 370, it’s always going to be hard to chase down. We batted really well and they probably didn’t bowl as well as they’d like, which was the same for us two weeks ago when we didn’t bowl or bat as well as we’d have liked.”

Things have clicked for Australia in this series. The batsmen have been among the runs, with the seniors – Warner and Smith – leading from the front. The likes of Travis Head and Mitchell Marsh have done their reputations no harm, and the pace attack has been relentless, with Mitchell Starc, Josh Hazlewood and Pat Cummins clicking in tandem.

Cummins, easing back in after a clutch of injuries, was particularly dangerous in Canberra, returning a career-best 4 for 41, consistently ranging around the 150kph mark. Lehmann said it was exciting to see him prosper, but insisted he shouldn’t be rushed back to the Test arena.

While more evidence of Cummins’s form in Melbourne would be good news for Australia, they will also have their eyes trained on Maxwell, and reintegrating him into the team. Lehmann revealed that a decision on the allrounder would be taken late, but said he was pleased with the way he had handled himself after being left out of the team. Given that Melbourne is his home ground, and a venue he is familiar with, Maxwell may well return.

“He’s been fantastic, full credit to him, the way he’s handled it and the way he’s been around the group and getting prepared to play each and every game,” said Lehmann. “We’ve named the team quite late both times because we’ve only got down to the ground just before basically, so it’s been a late call. He’s missed out last-minute and he’s handled that really well.

“I’m really pleased the way he’s gone about it, and I know the players are, the way he’s dealt with it. For him, he’s just got to be ready to play, as we say to all our squad members. If he gets his opportunity, away he goes.”

While Australia pursue a clean sweep, New Zealand have plenty to ponder. In contrast to the Australians, the visitors’ bowling has been limp, their batsmen have failed on both occasions when they were asked to chase huge totals, and they’ve visibly struggled in the field.

BJ Watling, the wicketkeeper-batsman, admitted New Zealand had only themselves to blame. “We want to improve from those last two performances,” he said. “We weren’t at our best and if we can do a few things better and put them under some pressure, we’ll be better off for it. We can improve our fielding and energy.”

In a bid to add fizz to the bowling attack, New Zealand will consider bringing in Lockie Ferguson for a second outing in place of Matt Henry, whose ten overs went for 91 wicket-less runs in the second match. The management might also consider naming Todd Astle, the legspinner, and Henry Nicholls, the top-order batsman.

It might be a dead rubber, but both teams have their own reasons to want to end the series on a high.

Teams (from)
Australia: Steven Smith (capt), David Warner, Aaron Finch, George Bailey, Travis Head, Glenn Maxwell, Mitchell Marsh, Hilton Cartwright, Matthew Wade (wk), James Faulkner, Mitchell Starc, Pat Cummins, Josh Hazelwood, Adam Zampa.

New Zealand: Kane Williamson (capt), BJ Watling (wk), Todd Astle, Trent Boult, Lockie Ferguson, Martin Guptill, Colin de Grandhomme, Matt Henry, Tom Latham, Colin Munro, James Neesham, Henry Nicholls, Mitchell Santner, Tim Southee.