Kiwis Take Fight to Australia

As with Brisbane on Friday, the SCG pitch offered assistance to the pace bowlers, and as is so often the case these days when batsmen are confronted with the moving ball, the result was a relatively even, low-scoring contest.

New Zealand captain Stephen Fleming won the toss and batted in searing heat approaching 40 degrees Celsius. The SCG pitch had two curious green stripes running down an off-stump line to the right handers at each end. Whether this was a cunning ploy by the groundsman is not known, but the green patches offered Australia’s new-ball bowlers much needed succour on such a hot day.

Brett Lee?s initial spell was a fearsome offering, with wicketkeeper Adam Gilchrist taking several balls at or above head height. In just his second over, Lee removed Nathan Astle for no score, caught by Gilchrist. Hamish Marshall then followed soon after, his recall at the expense of spinner Jeetan Patel to strengthen the batting proving unsuccessful.

Both Lee and Nathan Bracken extracted helpful movement through the air and off the seam. Once they were spelled, Glenn McGrath began a superb exhibition of control and movement. The veteran paceman took three for 24 from 10 immaculate overs, despite being used as first change. The man who has been referred to as his clone, Stuart Clark finished with four for 54. He benefited from both Fleming and Ross Taylor gifting their wickets to him with skied attempts to loft over the in-field.

Having been reduced to four for 53, Craig McMillan now played his best one-day innings since 2002. He was clearly out caught behind off McGrath early in his innings, but seven fours and three sixes later he ensured that he made the most of the let-off. He eventually fell caught and bowled to McGrath to a full toss which he thought ought to have been called a no-ball on its height.

New Zealand were eventually bowled out for 218, which was probably 20 runs short of a par score on a sporting surface.

The tourists came into this match without Shane Bond, Scott Styris and Jacob Oram to name but three, but their new-ball bowlers soon had Australia on the back foot. James Franklin snared the vital wicket of Adam Gilchrist for three to a ball which he chased but which would otherwise have been called wide. In the next over, Matthew Hayden fell to Michael Mason, caught driving to short cover for a duck.

Things only got worse for Australia when Ricky Ponting was adjudged lbw to the impressive Mason for only five.

Michael Clarke and Andrew Symonds then steadied things for Australia, Symonds in particular playing some thumping cover drives and swipes over mid-wicket on his way to a 40 ball 38 before he was bowled off the inside edge by the excellent Daniel Vettori. For his part, Clarke was lucky to survive a skied pull-shot from the bowling of Mark Gillespie, who has been a great find for the Black Caps on this tour. The ball fell to Franklin who made a complete hash of the opportunity running in to backward square leg.

Gillepsie’s spell was full of hostility, pace and bounce, regularly hurling the ball at speeds approaching 140 kph. As is the common saying these days “That’s good heat”. More impressive, however, was Gillespie?s control which forced Clarke, Symonds and then Mike Hussey to play him with the utmost respect.

Upon Symonds’ departure, Clarke and Hussey joined in a hard working partnership in which they looked relatively assured, although Hussey ought to have been run out when Hamish Marshall made a complete hash of picking up a ball at point when Hussey was three-quarters down the pitch from the non-striker’s end. Clarke had pushed the ball to the off, called yes, then turned his back on Hussey. Despite Marshall’s fumble, had his throw been gathered cleanly by Vettori at the bowler’s end Hussey would still have been run out.

Following their let-offs, Hussey and Clarke re-composed themselves until the latter fell to Vettori for a well-compiled 75 from 111 balls which eventually won him the man-of-the-match award.

Cameron White joined Hussey but did not stay for long, falling to Gillespie for only five and suddenly Australia were wobbling again. Nevertheless, with admirable support from Lee, Bracken and Clark, Hussey was able to see Australia home with eight balls and two wickets remaining. His pulled six from Astle was an appropriate full stop to a hard-fought contest and to his own 65 not out from 73 balls.

It’s not unfair to say that the dropping of Clarke and the missing of Hussey were the turning points in this match. New Zealand created enough chances to win this match and to win it well. The inclusion of Marshall for Patel did not pay off in the long run, with Astle and McMillan’s combined 8.4 overs as the fifth and sixth bowlers conceding 50 runs. In the context of a low-scoring game those runs were vital, particularly as Fleming had to turn to these two part-timers at the end of Australia?s innings.

Still, Fleming could not be criticised for keeping his front line bowlers in the attack early to press for wickets. Those bowlers performed admirably. When one thinks of the players the Black Caps can add to this already very competitive outfit, their World Cup prospects look promising in the extreme. Even without some of their injured stars, this Kiwi outfit is competitive enough to push Australia as it is.

New Zealand 218 (47.4 overs)
Craig McMillan 89, Ross Taylor 26
Stuart Clark 4-54, Glenn McGrath 3/24

Australia won by 2 wickets

Australia 224-8 (48.4 overs)
Michael Clarke 75, Michael Hussey 65*
Mark Gillespie 2-34, Daniel Vettori 2-41, Michael Mason 2-46

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