| Ricky Ponting in Guwahati on Sunday
Guwahati: Australia are just too good. No Adam Gilchrist, no Mathew Hayden and no Brad Williams. And yet, the world champions produced another professional performance to hand New Zealand the third defeat against their Trans-Tasman rivals in the TVS Cup tri-series at Nehru Stadium on Sunday.
A large part of the credit for the 44-run win after being restricted to 225 for seven in 50 overs on a day and a wicket favouring the abridged version of the game goes to their regular saviour Michael Bevan, who was rightly adjudged Man of the Match. The match, however, lacked the usual New Zealand-Australia excitement.
Australia now have 23 points from five games. New Zealand have ten from five and India nine from four outings.
Bevan’s calm and measured 84 ensured the Brackens and the Bichels had something to defend after New Zealand had Australia struggling at 61 for four. It was a typically cool and collected innings with only seven hits to the fence. Bevan first had a 78-run partnership with skipper Ricky Ponting, who scored a patchy 52 off 82 balls, and then forged a 61-run eighth-wicket stand with Andy Bichel (15 off 18 balls).
The New Zealand batsmen, however, failed to apply themselves after the fine job done by their bowlers, who not only muzzled the flow of runs, but did not concede a single six to a team famous for its hitting abilities.
New Zealand lost their first four wickets for 64 in 16.3 overs. If that was bad enough, they made it look worse by losing their last four wickets for a mere 12 runs inside four overs. Unable to handle the pressure applied by the Aussie bowlers backed by some brilliant fielding as usual, New Zealand also started running themselves out.
Left-arm spinner Daniel Vettori, who claimed his 100th ODI wicket in the morning by dismissing Ponting, ran himself out with his team needing 55 from eight overs. He was soon followed by Harris, who made a gritty 38. Nathan Bracken drove in the final nail when he had Darryl Tuffey caught behind for nought.
New Zealand, actually, never quite recovered from the quick dismissals off Chris Nevin and Lou Vincent to the left-arm medium pace of Bracken with the total reading 38 for two. Stephen Fleming fell to a slower one from Ian Harvey for a 46-ball 29 that included six fours.
Craig McMillan, from whom much was expected was the next to fall for a duck, to Andy Bichel. Jacob Oram, who hit 81 in Pune, followed soon after as a low Brad Hogg delivery hit him on the pads. Hogg, returning to the side after missing the last game in Pune, finished with figures of 10-0-39-2.
Allrounders Scott Styris and Harris tried to stem the rot with a 55-run partnership. But a lapse in concentration saw Styris hole out to Ponting for 54 off 82 balls with two fours, just three balls after Bevan had dropped a skier just inside the ropes. Wicketkeeper Brendon McCullum fell to an ambitious shot soon after to give Michael Kasprowicz his first wicket of the series.
The day, however, did not start on a winning note for Ponting’s world-beaters. Trying out the new opening pair of Jimmy Maher and Harvey in place of the tried and tested Hayden-Gilchrist, the eventual winners got off to a flying start with Harvey indulging in some lusty hitting by showing a special liking in Tuffey.
But it was too good too last with Tuffey having the last laugh by claiming both Harvey (25 off 19 balls) and Maher to leave the Aussies at 33 for two. Australia’s woes compounded when they lost the in-form Damien Martyn for a duck to Tuffey’s new-ball partner Kyle Mills.
Ponting and Andrew Symonds then tried to restore order but Mills had the latter caught behind for 18 which included four fours. It was then left to crisis man Bevan and Ponting to steady the innings which they did before Vettori had the skipper caught at long-off by McMillan to make it 139 for five.
Vettori struck once again by dismissing the hugely talented Michael Clarke in an almost similar fashion — caught at long-off by McMillan to return figures of 10-0-20-2. From there on, Bevan took over to ensure a fighting total which in the end proved to be a mountain for New Zealand.
The tri-series road-show now moves to Bangalore where Australia take on India on Wednesday. But it will be the last group game in Hyderabad on November 15 which will decide who will take on Australia in the final in Calcutta on November 18.
n Stephen Fleming blames it on batting, scorecard: S2