It’s been an entertaining World Cup but if it had lacked anything before this weekend it had been a genuinely exciting encounter between two of the major sides . In part this had been a function of the established pattern of the side batting first making 300 plus which is more often than not a bridge too far for the team batting second.
The two favourites provided the clash of the tournament so far in a sensational game at Eden Park which New Zealand won by one wicket. Time was not a factor- the hosts attained their target of 152 in the 24th over – but Australia’s extraordinary fight back from an apparently hopeless position meant that they emerged from the game with as much hope for their future in the tournament as the victors.
The game had the ebb and flow of a fast – forwarded Test match. Aaron Finch and David Warner got off to a frenetic start, aided by some erratic radar from Tim Southee and even when Finch was castled by Trent Boult, having lofted the previous ball for a straight six, Australia continued to prosper , the irrepressible Warner and an apparently resurgent Shane Watson taking them to 80 for 1 in the 13th over. At this point both fell to successive balls from Daniel Vettori and the returning Southee.
It was the passage of play that followed that ultimately held the key to the match. Australia’s much vaunted middle order had no answer to New Zealand’s attack, notably man of the match Boult who, in one three over burst took five for one, three of them clean bowled. Australia slumped from 80 for 1 in the 13th over to 106 for 9 in the 22nd.
Arguably, though, it had been Brendon McCullum’s introduction into the attack of the veteran slow left armer Vettori as early as the sixth over that made the difference. On the face of it it looked like a defensive measure – because Southee and Boult appeared powerless to stem the flow of runs. But of course McCullum does not do defensive. These days Vettori barely turns it but Warner and Watson, and after them Michael Clarke – appearing for the first time in the tournament and having missed Australia’s last ten ODIs – and Steve Smith seemed in two if not three minds as to how to deal with his medley of apparently harmless but in fact craftily deployed deliveries. Vettori took two for 41 in his 10 overs but Brad Haddin hit 13 of those in his last over.
The resourceful Haddin (top scoring with 43) and last man Pat Cummins took the score to 151.
Was it enough? One thing about McCullum : you don’t have to wait long to find out. One disadvantage of bowling a side out with plenty of overs to spare, as New Zealand have now done three times, is that your own innings gets divided in two by the interval. Perhaps this explains McCullum’s now traditional onslaught on the opening bowlers. Whatever the reason he scythed and romped his way to 50 in 24 balls treating Mitchell Johnson in particular like a dibbly dobbly merchant. New Zealand went into dinner in the relative comfort of 79 for three in the eighth over , though with their most experienced batsmen McCullum and Ross Taylor, both gone.
Mitchell Starc resumed the eighth over after the interval , having removed Taylor with the last ball before dinner. With the first ball after it he demolished the stumps of the hapless Grant Elliott. Corey Anderson , the ebullient left hander came in to join the serenely calm Kane Williamson and it literally seemed that Anderson would get out at any moment. But he hung in there to take the score to 131 for four when Anderson slogged Glenn Maxwell to Cummins at mid wicket. Luke Ronchi hit his first ball for six but received an unavoidable snorter from Starc , now back on after being replaced for two overs by Johnson, which he gloved to Haddin : 139 for 6.
Vettori fell to a soft dismissal in the next over, from Cummins : 145 for 7. Seven to win. Three wickets remaining.
It was a day for heroes. Starc was unstoppable. It was his ninth over ( four for 27 so far) . Williamson took a single off the second ball ( perhaps one day he’ll tell his grandchildren why). With the third ball Starc clean bowled Adam Milne. With the fourth he clean bowled Southee. For the second time in the game he was on a hat trick: he had bowled Taylor for one and Elliott for a duck. Boult kept out the last two.
Six to win as Cummins prepared to bowl. The 23 year old Williamson , who a year ago was not regarded as a fixture in the one day side, looked around the field. Slightly over pitched from Cummins. Cool as you like Williamson moved forward and lofted it over the boundary at long on.
Bill Ricquier, 28/2/2015
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