Ponting ton leads the way

Australia won their final ODI of the group stage of the Commonwealth Bank Tri-Series against New Zealand by 5 wickets and with surprising ease. Despite fine innings of 90 by Lou Vincent, and 60 by Peter Fulton, and an imposing target of 290 on a relatively slow MCG pitch, Australia never looked in serious trouble in their run chase. A superb hundred by skipper Ricky Ponting and a classy 99 from Brad Hodge ensured that the Australian’s took a morale boosting victory into the finals series.

Earlier in the day, New Zealand’s top order laid the foundation for a big score perfectly. After Stephen Fleming continued his poor run with a mistimed cover drive to Michael Hussey when the score was 12, Peter Fulton and the controversial Lou Vincent struck 151 runs for the second wicket. Vincent was especially stylish with a number of glorious shots through the on side, and a superb straight drive off Brett Lee for 6. Fulton also showed a good array of shots as well, again particularly strong through the on side.

Only a red hot Shaun Tait kept the score from blowing out during the power plays. Tait bowled with ferocious pace, occasionally touching 160 km/h, showed for more control than in his disappointing debut against England, and frequently had the New Zealand batsmen hopping at the crease.

However, after Tait finished his first spell, the pair set about collecting singles. With Andrew Symonds absent, Australia had to rely on the part time leg spinners of Michael Clarke and Cameron White. Clarke again displayed his value with a couple of fine spells, but Vincent and Fulton found things easy going against White who went for 26 off his 4 overs. For the first time in the series, Peter Fulton passed 50, despite never making a score lower than 15. Vincent also noodled his way to a half century and raised his bat to the jeers of 40,000 victorians.

Eventually, Fulton was dismissed. Having played one lovely sweep shot for four, he missed another and was caught plumb lbw off Clarke. Fulton’s departure triggered a period of inaction that would ultimately cost them the match. New Zealand managed just 70 in the next 13 overs, as Ross Taylor struggled to get Clarke away. Things were not helped when Lou Vincent was bowled for an excellent 90 offering Shaun Tait a much deserved wicket, as he finished with figures of 10 overs 26 for 1.

Taylor and Styris continued to struggle, until Taylor’s wicket shook New Zealand out of their slumber. Oram, on the back of 3 superb innings, immediatley launched reverse swept Michael Clarke for 4 and then launched Brett Lee down the ground for another 6. However, just as the MCG patrons were anticipating another destructive innings, Oram swung a length ball from Lee to Brad Hodge at deep mid wicket, who took a good low catch.

New Zealand’s lower order then finally clicked in the last 5 overs, racking up 54 runs. Brett Lee went for 18 in his 9th over, while Stuart Clark’s 9th went for 11. Styris, who played relatively well in his first game back from injury was caught hitting out to the deep off a fullish delivery from Clark for 34. McCullum was then dismissed by a superb yorker, in the final over, but some good hitting by James Franklin hauled the total up to 290.

In reply, Australia made a solid start, although neither Gilchrist nor Hayden looked especially settled, and struggled to pierce the field. Bond continued his worrying recent form, going for 29 in his first 5 overs. Franklin meanwhile, bowled a steady first 8 overs, and maintained enough pressure to force poor shots out of both openers. Gilchrist played on with a horrible slog across the line to a straight one. Hayden, playing a similar shot in Franklin’s next over somehow managed to pick out the one out fielder on the leg side boundary.

However the wickets brought the intimidating figure of Ricky Ponting to the crease. Despite a relatively slow start, and poorly supported by a stuttering innings by Michael Clarke, Ponting rapidly set about organising the run chase in an effortless and clinical fashion. Even Clarke’s dismissal, a thin edge from a wide Vettori delivery, could not stop Ponting. His strike rate never fell far below 90 and his innings took all the pressure off the struggling Brad Hodge.

Vettori and Styris bowled well during the middle overs, but the run rate never got out of control. Come the 32nd over, a change in the ball gave the pair the perfect opportunity to launch an attack. Hodge who scored just 19 runs off his first 37 balls started rapidly finding plenty of spaces in the massive MCG outfield to run 2’s and 3’s, while Ponting continued on his merry way, striking Styris over mid wicket for four, and then smashing Daniel Vettori down the ground for a wonderful six.

The run rate rapidly dropped below 8, and then below 7, and the return of Shane Bond to the bowling crease brought no threat of a wicket, as Ponting marched imperiously to a hundred from 105 balls. Hodge took any remaining pressure off by taking 11 off James Franklin’s final over. Ponting was finally dismissed, caught superbly by Lou Vincent at mid off, to a lofted drive from Mark Gillespie, but by then the match was all but over with Australia requiring 25 off just 23 balls.

New Zealand did manage to snap another wicket, that of Mike Hussey who was caught short by a superb throw from the deep from Lou Vincent, which rounded off a superb effort by the kiwi opener in the field. But at that point the only question was whether Hodge could bring up a hundred. His innings had been so measured and controlled, that despite only hitting 7 fours and 1 six, he raced to 99 off 87 deliveries. However, unfortunately for him New Zealand did not score quite enough runs to allow him a century, and he fell agonisingly short on his home ground, as Australia costed home in the penultimate over.

The loss, means the final game of the round robin is now effectively a semi-final, with New Zealand needing to bounce back from this if they hope to meet Australia in the final, and beat England on Tuesday at Brisbane.

New Zealand 290-7
Lou Vincent 90*, Peter Fulton 60
Michael Clarke 2-45, Stuart Clark 2-61, Brett Lee 2-71

Australia won by 5 wickets

Australia 291-5
Ricky Ponting 104, Brad Hodge 99*
James Franklin 2-56, Mark Gillespie 1-45

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