SYDNEY - There's been no place like home for Australia and New Zealand on their respective paths to the World Cup final but just one of the co-hosts will enjoy that particular advantage when they meet in Sunday's title decider.
After 48 one-day internationals played out over six weeks between teams from five continents, the 11th version of cricket's showpiece tournament comes down to a trans-Tasman tussle at the Melbourne Cricket Ground.
Australia, playing in their seventh final, have all the cricketing pedigree and their four previous titles make them by far the most successful nation in World Cup history.
New Zealand have indisputably been the form team of the tournament, their eight-match unbeaten romp to their first World Cup final including a victory over the Australians in Auckland.
Now, though, they have left New Zealand for the first time in the tournament to play their first one-dayer at the MCG in six years in front of a hostile crowd of up to 100,000.
In their last 12 one-dayers at the MCG going back five years, Australia have won all but two and they are unbeaten at the ground in their last six encounters.
Crucial to New Zealand's chances of lifting a first World Cup is, perhaps, how their potent new ball attack of Trent Boult and Tim Southee handle the change of conditions on the drop-in wicket.
Consensus has it they will get less of the swing they have used to such devastating effect back home and will have to adjust the length of their deliveries.
Australia expect that to play to their advantage the same way New Zealand benefited in the one-wicket victory at Eden Park -- the only defeat for Michael Clarke's side.
"I think the fact that the conditions are different will certainly help us, and we've played a fair bit of cricket throughout the summer at the MCG as well," Clarke said after the semi-final win at the Sydney Cricket Ground on Thursday.
"Conditions are a lot different to what New Zealand have been playing in in New Zealand. But in saying that, I think we're going to have to play our best cricket, there's no doubt about it."
Southee, though, thinks New Zealand's bowlers have shown they can prosper even when they do not get much movement.
"It hasn't swung for us in every game but we've found ways to take wickets so I think that's the beauty of our attack," he told reporters in Melbourne on Friday.
"I think we've got variety to it and if it does swing, obviously we do become a bit more dangerous. But we have found ways to take wickets when it's not swinging."
Australia have a potent bowling attack of their own in the rampant Mitchell Starc and Mitchell Johnson, with the older Johnson looking close to his best with two key Indian wickets in the semi-final.
It has largely been a World Cup more notable for batting, though, and both sides have quality all their way through their line-ups.
The fearless aggression shown by New Zealand openers Brendon McCullum and Martin Guptill has been a sight to behold for cricket lovers everywhere.
And if there was any doubt about New Zealand's ability to deal with pressure, they can point to two tight victories won with sixes -- first Kane Williamson against Australia and then Grant Elliott in the semi-final against South Africa.
For Australia, Steve Smith has been calmly racking up runs all season and in the likes of David Warner and Glenn Maxwell they also have the power hitters to inflate a batting total in a few short overs.
Penpix of the New Zealand squad:
33. Top-order batsman. 248 matches. 5,808 runs. High score: 166. The former wicketkeeper shelved the gloves due to a back issue that has dogged him for more than five years. Exhilarating hitter with exceptional bat speed. Has floated up and down the order in recent years but has given the co-hosts a flying start as an opener. He has scored four half-centuries at the World Cup with a strike-rate of almost 192. An inventive, aggressive captain and exceptional fielder who leads by example.
28. Top-order batsman. 107 matches. 3,724 runs. High score: 237*. An aggressive pure-striking batsman, Guptill scored a century on debut in 2009 and set the tournament alight with an unbeaten 237 in the quarter-final against West Indies. He is New Zealand's top-scorer in the World Cup with 532 runs with two hundreds and a fifty. He is a superb cover fielder and boundary rider with a strong arm.
24. Top-order batsman. 73 matches. 2,674 runs. High Score: 145*. The glue that holds New Zealand's batting together, Williamson was once considered too slow a scorer to be a threat in limited overs matches. However, he worked on his game and now has a career strike rate over 80 and average of 45. He came into the tournament in the form of his life but has scored one fifty at the World Cup and has failed to convert the starts into big scores.
31, Top-order batsman. 158 matches. 5,094 runs. High Score: 131*. An aggressive, exciting batsman, the controversy of his removal as captain two years ago appears behind him and the team. Taylor has matured in the past two years and has spent a lot of time trying to eradicate the slog-sweep to deep mid-wicket. Suffered a lean patch against Sri Lanka but came right at the end of the series and scored an unbeaten century against Pakistan on Feb. 3. He played a crucial 56 in their narrow win against Bangladesh in the pool stage.
22. Batsman/occasional wicketkeeper. 26 matches. 502 runs. High Score: 86. A former front row forward at high school, where he became friends with 2014 World Rugby Player of the Year Brodie Retallick, he is the son of former New Zealand opener Rod Latham, who played in the 1992 World Cup. Established himself as a solid test opener, but is yet to get a game in the tournament. Technique and temperament probably better suited to open or number three than come in later and throw the bat at the ball.
24. All-rounder. 34 matches. 918 runs. 50 wickets. High Score: 131*. Best Bowling 5/63. Anderson was the youngest player to be offered a New Zealand first-class contract at 16. Built like a rugby loose forward, he briefly held the world record for the fastest one-day international century from 36 balls against West Indies in 2014, hammering 14 sixes in his 131 not out. He has excelled both with the bat and the ball at the tournament, scoring 231 runs with two fifties and 14 wickets.
36. All-rounder. 66 matches. 1,526 runs. 29 wickets. High Score: 115. Best Bowling: 4-31. The surprise selection in the team after an absence of 14 months. The South African-raised right hander is calm and deliberate when batting, as shown in the recent Sri Lanka series as he kept the scoreboard ticking over while other players attacked. A canny medium pace bowler with well disguised slower deliveries and a solid fielder. He scored a crucial 84 not out in New Zealand's semi-final win over South Africa, including a six to overhaul the target in the final over.
33. Wicketkeeper. 48 matches. 985 runs. 74 dismissals. High Score: 170*. New Zealand-born, Australia-raised Ronchi played four one-day internationals for Australia in 2008 but moved back to his country of birth three years ago. A hard hitting and free flowing batsman he will close the innings for the team. Scored 170 not out in a world record sixth-wicket stand with Elliott in Dunedin in late January. He has been neat behind the stumps but has failed to fire with the bat.
36. Left arm spin bowler/all-rounder. 294 matches. 2,244 runs. 305 wickets. High Score: 83 Best Bowling: 5-7. Entering his fourth World Cup, the former captain battled Achilles injuries for more than two years and is expected to bow out afterwards. Widely considered as one of the best limited overs bowlers in the world, his variation of flight and pace compensate for a lack of turn. Primarily seen as tying up one end and building scoreboard pressure as McCullum uses his other bowlers to attack at the opposite end. Vettori has conceded under four runs an over for his 15 wickets in the tournament.
34. Off-spin bowler/all-rounder. 78 matches. 1,030 runs. 55 wickets. High Score: 65 Best Bowling: 3-24. The elder brother of captain Brendon, he took over as the automatic choice as the team's spinner after Vettori suffered injury. A tidy, compact bowler he extracts more turn than the left armer. Is also a better fielder and a handy, aggressive tail ender batsman who could prove to be an able ally for Ronchi and Elliott to finish innings. But the seamer-friendly conditions and Vettori's success has meant he has not got a game at the World Cup.
36. Fast medium bowler. 170 matches. 240 wickets. Best Bowling: 5-25. The warhorse of the team, he missed the 2007 World Cup through injury and was invalided out of the 2011 tournament. He suffered a groin strain against Pakistan in UAE and was sent home to recuperate but met a deadline to play in the recent Sri Lanka series. Extremely competitive, he has been involved in on field confrontations, particularly against South Africa. Good change of pace and movement off the seam. Once a handy tail-end batter, that has fallen away over time. With the rest of the pace battery in prime form, he has not got a game.
26. Fast medium bowler. 93 matches. 131 wickets. Best Bowling: 7-33. The leader of the bowling attack, Southee has developed a world class test partnership with Boult. Generates a lot of swing at good pace and at times can be unplayable. Had a superb 2011 World Cup finishing with 18 wickets at 17.33. Also possesses a safe set of hands and can be a punishing batsman, noted for accelerating the innings rather than settling it down. Southee mowed down England with seven wickets and has bagged 15 so far, but gone off the boil since.
25. Fast medium bowler. 24 matches. 39 wickets. Best Bowling: 5-27. The left-arm swing bowler has been mostly overlooked for the limited overs teams after establishing himself as a test bowler. Can move the ball both ways in the air and off the pitch and has formed a strong new-ball partnership with Southee. A superb fielder as evidenced by several athletic catches at point or in the outfield. He is currently the highest wicket-taker in the tournament with 21 scalps.
28. Medium fast bowler. 35 matches. 66 wickets. Best Bowling: 5-58. The aggressive left armer made an immediate impact with 4-20 off 10 overs against South Africa on debut. Became the second fastest man to 50 ODI wickets in 23 matches. Can be expensive but takes wickets in bunches and extracts surprising pace and bounce off a length on New Zealand pitches. He got a single match, against Bangladesh, but conceded 68 without a wicket.
23. Medium fast bowler. Nine matches. 21 wickets. Best bowling: 5-30. A fiery fast bowler, who bowls consistently above the 140 kph mark, Henry was unlucky to miss the World Cup squad despite performing well in the handful of matches he played. Drafted in as a replacement for fast bowler Adam Milne. He was at his cousin's engagement party when he found out he was in the team. He was brought straight in to the New Zealand team for the semi-final against South Africa and produced a fine opening spell but failed to take a wicket, giving away 40 runs.
Penpix of the Australian squad
33, right-handed batsman. 244 matches, 7907 runs, wickets 57. Highest score: 130.
Returning from a hamstring surgery, Clarke played his first match of the tournament in the narrow defeat to New Zealand.
Apart from being one of Australia's finest batsmen, Clarke's creative approach to the captaincy has been key to his country's revival.
One of only five squad members to have played at the World Cup before, he knows what it takes to win the title even if he has not set alight the tournament with his bat.
32, right-handed batsman. 57 matches, 2017 runs. Highest score: 156.
After relinquishing the Twenty20 captaincy and with a test recall unlikely, Bailey is a rarity in the squad as a 50-over specialist.
His 478 runs at an average of 95.6 as stand-in skipper on the 2013 tour of India established him as the go-to man when Clarke is injured.
With Clarke back in side, Bailey is set to sit out of the final.
21, right-arm fast bowler. 12 matches, 19 wickets.
Few bowlers have made more of an impression on their test debut than Cummins did as a teenager when his 6-79 led Australia to a two-wicket victory over South Africa at Wanderers in November 2011.
While the last three years have been mainly spent recovering from back and foot injuries, his body has held up well enough this season to gamble on selecting him in their youthful pace attack.
With Josh Hazlewood cementing his position as the third seamer in the side, Cummins may have to bide time.
32, left-arm spinner. 60 matches, 55 wickets.
Doherty was a controversial selection ahead of test spinner Nathan Lyon but has not had much game time on the pace-friendly Australian pitches.
With Glenn Maxwell, Steve Smith and Michael Clarke all able to offer a part-time spin option, Doherty is unlikely to get an opportunity in the final.
24, all rounder (left-arm pace, right-hand bat) 43 matches. 814 runs, HS: 116; 57 wickets, BB: 4-48
The left-arm seamer is one of the first names on the squad even though he missed the first half of the group stage with an abdominal injury.
Faulkner can swing the ball both ways, has good control and has developed into a ruthless finisher who can be relied upon to get Australia over the line.
28, right-handed batsman. 48 matches, 1,727 runs. Highest score: 148.
The big-hitting opener has had a stop-start international career but always forced himself back into the reckoning by weight of runs.
The 156 he hit off 63 balls with 14 sixes in a Twenty20 against England in 2013 illustrated his brutal firepower in the shorter forms of the game.
37, wicketkeeper. 125 matches, 3122 runs. Highest score: 110. Dismissals: 179
A tough competitor with a sure pair of hands, Haddin seems to have been on the verge of losing his place as Australia's first-choice wicketkeeper for the last four years.
His ability to launch a lower order counter-attack and his contribution to the leadership of the group have helped keep at bay the contenders to his spot behind the wickets.
24, right-arm fast-medium bowler. 12 matches, 19 wickets.
Long compared to fast bowling great Glenn McGrath, Hazlewood was one of the youngest players to play one-day cricket for Australia when he made his international debut in 2010.
The right-arm quick has played only seven matches since but all but one of them were this season and he grabbed his first five wicket-haul in a losing cause against South Africa at the WACA in November.
Seems to have cemented his place as the third seamer.
33, left-arm pace bowler. 152 matches, 236 wickets. Highest score: 73 not out
Described by Dennis Lillee as a "once-in-a-generation bowler," the tall pace bowler now has two ICC Cricketer of the Year awards.
After spending a long period in the doldrums, Johnson returned to form with the white ball on the 2013 tour of India and has barely put a foot wrong since.
His 236 wickets at 25.45 in 152 ODIs tell only part of the tale of one of the few bowlers who can genuinely scare a batsman and turn a match in a couple of spellbinding overs.
23, all-rounder (right-handed bat, right-arm medium) 17 matches, 451 runs, 11 wickets. Highest score: 89.
Another of Australia's band of young all-rounders, Marsh's career has been plagued by the same hamstring problems that have dogged his brother Shaun.
Assured performances in his first two tests in the ill-fated series against Pakistan last year gave him the chance to put together a sustained run in the international game.
26, all rounder (right-handed bat, right-arm off-spin). 48 matches, 1367 runs, HS: 102; 33 wickets, BB: 4-46
An enigmatic and destructive batsman, he will have to go some way this year to erase the memory of his embarrassing golden duck in a T20 tournament in December, where he shouldered arms to a straight ball.
The brain freezes, though, are the trade-off for a potential match-winning talent with both bat and ball, as he proved in the final of the tri-series against England earlier this month.
Maxwell has enthralled fans with his breath-taking 360-degree batting and scored his maiden ODI century against Sri Lanka.
25, right-handed batsman, occasional leg-spin bowler. 57 matches, 1,493 runs, HS: 105; 27 wickets, BB: 3-16
Smith burst onto the international scene in 2010 as a leg-spinning youngster who could make useful contributions with the bat.
Having long put bowling on the back burner, his form with the bat earned him the test captaincy when Clarke was injured late last year.
Scored a career-best 105 that secured Australia's semi-final victory against holders India.
25, left-arm fast bowler. 40 matches, 81 wickets, BB: 6-28
The other left-armer in Australia's pace attack, Starc deputised for the rested Johnson in the triangular series against India and England and was impressive with the new ball.
His 6-43 in the victory over the world champions in Melbourne helped take his career haul to 61 wickets at a shade over 20 runs apiece.
Starc has emerged as the best Australian bowler in the tournament and his tally of 20 wickets makes him second only to New Zealand's Trent Boult (21) in the wicket-takers' list.
28, left-handed batsman. 61 matches, 2002 runs, HS: 178.
Aggressive, belligerent and when in full flow one of the most destructive batsmen in the modern game, Warner is a fixture in Australia's opening partnership.
His one-day batting average of 34 is a good 14 runs lower than in tests, however, and he has possibly suffered from being rested from two one-day tours in the last couple of years.
His 127 runs off 115 balls against England in Sydney in January amply showed his potential value to the team.
Warner blasted a career-high 178 against Afghanistan but is yet to register another significant score in the tournament.
33, all rounder (right-arm medium pace, right-handed bat) 186 matches, 5684 runs, HS: 185 not out; 166 wickets, BB: 4-36.
Watson is a belligerent batsman and a World Cup winner in 2007 but often seems to throw his wicket away with a rash shot when looking set for a big score.
When free of the injuries that have plagued his career, Watson is always likely to contribute to his team's cause with 10 tidy overs and a wicket, often a key one.
Dropped for the match against Afghanistan, Watson has made a comeback in the playing side where his experience has stood Australia in good stead.–Reuters