Tuesday, March 11, 2003

An Astounding Game, and Perhaps a Turning Point in International Cricket

I described Australia v New Zealand today as potentially the match of the tournament. It has just finished, and I have no idea how to describe it. Although in the end the match was not close, the swings this game took were simply astounding. In a nutshell, Australia batting first were at one point 7/84. However, Australia ended up winning by 96 runs.

Australia batted first, and New Zealand pace bowler Shane Bond bowled an utterly superb spell, taking 6/23 off his ten overs, the best bowling in One Day internationals by a New Zealander. For Australia, Adam Gilchrist scored 18 before being given out to a clearly incorrect LBW decision, and Damien Martyn scored 31. Apart from that, the top order scored hardly any runs, and after 26.3 overs Australia were at 7/84 and faced apparently certain defeat. However, the one slight reason for hope was that the batsmen for Australia were Michael Bevan and Andy Bichel, who managed to save Australia from apparently certain defeat against England earlier in the tournament. And, impressively, they did it again, puting on 97 for the eighth wicket. Both were out with about one over to go, but Brett Lee then came in and hit sixes off the last two balls, taking Australia to 9/208 off their 50 overs. This was not an overwhelming score, but it was enough to give Australia a chance.

Fleming's captaincy may have let his side down a little today. He had one bowler who was bowling superbly, and the rest of his attack was so so. Bond was taking wickets, so Fleming let him bowl all his overs early on, in the hope that either Bond would get the whole Australian side out, or his other bowlers would be able to wrap up the Australian innings. As it happened, the other bowlers couldn't do it. Fleming kept changing his lesser bowlers around in an attempt to find someone who could finish things off, but it didn't happen. As it was, nobody really got their rhythm together, and the New Zealand team's lack of depth did ultimately show a little.

New Zealand hit fourteen runs off the first two overs of their innings, but then McGrath struck, taking the score to 2/14 and then 3/33. At that point Fleming and Cairns came together and for a little while the two hit a few quick runs, including one enormous six from Cairns. It probably wasn't the right strategy - slow and steady was - but Cairns played his natural game. However, Cairns mistimed a shot against Bichel and was caught at third man for 16. Fleming stayed in, and although Vincent got out, at 5/102 off 24 overs, New Zealand were behind, but still had a chance as long as Fleming could continue to stay in.

Bichel was getting a little wayward, so Ponting took him off and brought Brett Lee (who had been expensive earlier) back on. Lee was spectacular in the triangular series in Australia a month or so ago, but has been below par in this tournament. However, he chose now to find top form, producing one of his deadly, fast, and accurate spells. He removed Fleming, and then the last four wickets in very little time. He was at one point an a hat trick, and didn't get it but took three wickets in four balls and at one point took five wickets for three runs. New Zealand were all out for 112, and Australia won by 96 runs. This was one of the most astounding turnarounds in a game of cricket I have ever seen.

New Zealand's batting strategy was odd, at some points trying to score runs quickly and risking their wickets, and at other times not scoring runs at all, when what they needed was slow and steady. It was as if New Zealand relaxed when they had Australia 7/84 earlier, and didn't respond properly when Australia fought back into the game. Fleming is normally a great captain, but he wasn't impressive today. (On the other hand, he was the only New Zealand batsman who batted sensibly). Sri Lanka and New Zealand have both been badly beaten in the last two days. The further we go on, the more it looks like a final between Australia and India awaits us. What a game that is likely to be.

Australia are the best side in world cricket. Their past rivalries have largely been against England and the West Indies. Those two teams are a shadow of what they once were, with neither really being able to compete with the Australians any more. India the country is responsible for cricket being a major world sport. India have produce plenty of great players, but they have never quite got their act together to produce great cricket teams. However, given demographics, inevitably one thinks that they must. A great rivalry between India versus Australia in the years to come could turn into something tremendous. Just perhaps, we will look back on this World Cup being the moment that rivalry came to the fore. I hope so.

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