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Australia pile on NZ agony

Nagpur: It is often said that great captains first win the game in their intuition and then what follows in the field is a mere re-run.

Some days back Ricky Ponting had said that his fast bowlers could rip through any batting order. “If all my three pacers get going, it will definitely be an intimidating factor no matter who the opposition is,” the Aussie skipper had said after their 91-run win over Zimbabwe. How true! The pace trio of Mitchell Johnson, Shaun Tait and Brett Lee bowled out of their skin to pulverise New Zealand and earn Australia a convincing seven-wicket victory on Friday.

Ponting had no hesitation to send New Zealand in. An overnight drizzle had added enough juice to the Jamtha wicket. Mitchell Johnson bowled a dream spell of 4 for 33 and with Tait (3 for 35) and Lee (1 for 29) contrived to skittle out New Zealand for a paltry 206 in 45.1 overs. Thanks to a defiant 54-run eighth-wicket partnership between Nathan McCullum (52) and Daniel Vettori (44) that the Black Caps lumbered to a 200-plus total.

Unfortunately, what was deemed to be threatening for Australia failed to create an impact. Neither Daniel Vettori nor Nathan McCullum could penetrate the Aussie batting with their spin. Shane Watson (62) and Brad Haddin (55) scripted a 133-run opening partnership to ensure Australia were on course to retaining the Chappell-Hadlee trophy.

Earlier, Johnson struck twice in the 14th over to remove Jesse Ryder (25) and James Franklin (0). New Zealand couldn’t quite recover from the blow, as they were already wobbling after strikes from Shaun Tait and Shane Watson respectively.

Tait wasn’t at his best, but showed the incentive of having raw pace. The Aussie speedster, sharing the new ball with Brett Lee, was erratic in his length initially. Tait sent down two consecutive wides in his first over, got pasted for two fours off Brendon McCullum, but avenged the insult in his second over.

McCullum was looking to accelerate pouncing on anything served short. Tait dared to bounce McCullum with one hurled at 144kph and the Black Caps’ opener, trying to force the pace, holed out to Jason Krejza at third man.

The Aussie pacers bowled aggressively and never lost sight of the target. Ponting’s decision to introduce Shane Watson in the ninth over also proved rewarding. The all-rounder removed Martin Guptill, who teed off after a slow start. The New Zealand opener was looking to reap rewards for his watchful innings and he was using the pace of Tait and Johnson to score quickly. But Guptill’s refusal to trek out against a low and skidding delivery resulted in a shattered woodwork.

Jesse Ryder tried to break the shackles with some of his trademark pull shots off Johnson. But the fashion of his dismissal was nothing less than a brain freeze. While probing away on the batsman’s off stump, Johnson got just enough seam movement to feather past Ryder’s half-hearted push. Ryder played from the crease without any footwork and was duly punished.

Though Hamish Bennett succeeded in breaking the opening partnership of Watson and Haddin, Australia were well-set to achieve the target.

Ricky Ponting’s (12) lean form with the bat continued. Brendon McCullum stumped the Aussie skipper in a fine piece of glove work. But Ponting won’t mind that, as he stretched his winning streak in the World Cup as captain to 24 on Friday.

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