What a game!
A match between two of the three favorites to win the trophy proved to be one that was worthy of all the hype and New Zealand eked out a win in one of the closest matches ever, replying to Australia’s 151 off 32.2 overs with 152/9 off 23.1 overs. What was surprising was that in a tournament dominated by batsmen and high scoring, this time it was the fast bowlers who dominated, with both teams barely scoring 150 and neither side coming anywhere close to using up their allotted 50 overs.
Australia batted first and got off to a very quick start, scoring 36 runs off the first three overs for the loss of one wicket, helped by a shaky start by the New Zealand bowlers, and were cruising at 80/1 off just 13 overs. But then NZ settled in to what has become their trademark style: tight disciplined bowling consistent with the field set for it. That cramps the batsmen and tempts them to try and force the pace to score runs. This leads to mistakes that the excellent fielding then exploits to get them out. This is solid cricket, the kind of strong fundamentals that make spectacular plays unnecessary.
This combination caused a spectacular collapse of the batting with Australia losing 8 wickets for just 26 runs in 8.4 overs, leaving them reeling at 106/9, and only a fine last wicket stand of 45 in 10.2 overs by wicket keeper Brad Haddin (43) and Pat Cummins (7) restored a veneer of pride, and they ended up being all out for 151 off 32.2 overs, with Trent Boult being the leading wicket taker with figures of 5 for 27.
New Zealand’s innings was eerily similar. They took advantage of early loose bowling to get off to an even faster start than Australia, scoring 39/0 off the first three overs, getting to 78/1 off 7.4 overs with Brendon McCullum displaying his usual hyper-aggressive batting style. I thought at that stage that they would cruise home to an easy victory. But Australia are nothing if not dogged and with McCullum’s departure after scoring 50 off 24 balls there was a collapse in the top order, with NZ losing three quick wickets to end up at 79/4. But Kane Williamson and Corey Anderson stabilized the innings and took them to 131 and NZ fans must have been thinking of victory parties when there was a massive collapse and they lost five wickets for just 15 runs and were really on the ropes at 146/9. But Williamson, who is emerging as a major star despite being only 24 years old, managed to keep his head and not wanting to risk the bowlers get a chance at his batting partner Trent Boult, hit a six off Pat Cummins to end the suspense and allow NZ fans a chance to breathe. Mitchell Starc ended with excellent figures of 6 for 28.
There must be great joy in Hobbitland today as NZ have removed any doubts that they are major contenders to win the championship.
The intensity of the rivalry between these two teams is so great that the home crowd of NZ fans did something that is very unlike them, and that is boo the opposing batsmen when Australia were batting. The boos were not only aimed at David Warner, a player who has a terrible reputation for unsportsmanlike and boorish behavior, but at even at players who are not guilty of such behavior. If Australia and New Zealand play each other in the knockout rounds or in the finals at a venue in Australia, you can be sure that the Australian fans, famous for their vocal support of their home team, will remember this and return the favor many times over.
In the other game played yesterday that no one seemed to be paying any attention to, India easily defeated UAE. UAE batted first and scored just 102 off 31.3 overs. India quickly reached that total with no fuss in 18.5 overs for the loss of just one wicket. So while attention has not been focused on them because their chances were not seen as that good this year, India is quietly piling up an impressive record and remains, with New Zealand and Ireland, one of the three unbeaten teams.
Today sees two more games that should be good. The first one is that between Sri Lanka and England, a game that is important to win for both teams, while the later game is between Pakistan and Zimbabwe, a game the Pakistan must win if it is to have any hope of making it to the quarterfinals.