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Astle keeps NZ semis hopes alive
- Streak-Ervine late burst goes in vain as Black Caps have it easy in the end

Bloemfontein: Nathan Astle and Chris Cairns combined forces to take New Zealand to an ultimately comfortable six wicket victory over Zimbabwe in their World Cup Super Six match on Saturday. The victory kept New Zealand on course for a semi-final berth.

Astle, New Zealand’s leading scorer in one-day cricket, took his total past 5,500 with a patient unbeaten 102. Cairns, who took his first wickets of the tournament with two for 16 from four overs, was equally restrained with 54, including two huge sixes.

The pair added 121 for the fourth wicket to set up victory for New Zealand with 16 balls to spare.

“It is nice to be getting the rewards for a lot of hard work,” Cairns said. “It was nice to be back at the bowling crease.”

Cairns said the Black Caps, who took only four points through from the first round, believed they needed two wins out of three to qualify for the semi-finals. “We have got a big game next against the Australians and they’re playing very, very well,” he said.

New Zealand were set a competitive target of 253 after Zimbabwe captain Heath Streak and Sean Ervine produced some of the most extraordinary late-hitting ever seen in a World Cup.

Steak rebuilt the innings patiently during a 68-run stand with Tatenda Taibu (53) after his side had slumped to 106 for six, and then teamed up with Ervine.

A savage assault resulted in 62 runs, almost a quarter of the team’s score, coming off the last 18 balls.

Streak, who ended on 72 not out, and Ervine, who made 31 from 14 balls, hit eight fours and three sixes in those final three overs.

Earlier, Zimbabwe fell in deep trouble after electing to bat first, losing their first six wickets for just 106 runs by the 24th over. Craig Wishart and Andy Flower made useful contributions of 30 and 37 runs, respectively, but the other frontline batsmen — Dion Ebrahim (0), Grant Flower (1) and Guy Whittal (0) — failed miserably. The big hitting Andy Blignaut, who has played a couple of good scores in this tournament, also failed to click and got out for only four runs.

Cairns took two of those wickets, dismissing Wishart and Whittal, while Andy Flower was run out by Astle.

The young wicketkeeper Tatenda Taibu played a brave knock after that in the company of Streak and the two brought the Zimbabwe innings back on rail.

Taibu struck his maiden one-day half-century before falling leg before wicket to Chris Harris for 53 which came off 79 balls and included three fours and a six.

Captain Stephen Fleming led from the front as New Zealand set off in pursuit of Zimbabwe’s 252 for seven. Fleming stroked 10 fours in his 46 from 42 balls, including three in a row from Streak.

After his dismissal, Astle took responsibility for the innings, against an attack lacking leg spinner Brian Murphy who tore a calf muscle practising in the break between innings. His 13th one-day century took 122 balls, contained 11 fours and kept New Zealand on course to reach the semi-finals.

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