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Sunday, January 21, 2007

Australia capitalise on NZ fielding lapses to win by unexpectedly close margin

The Australia - New Zealand game at the SCG has just finished and I've already heard two people - one on radio and the other on TV - describe it as "going down to the wire". This isn't an inaccurate description but I must say that I found it hard to believe that a team as resilient and with as much self-belief as Australia could falter, even though wickets kept falling as they recovered from 3/17 to reach their target of 219.

Two blunders in the field reprieved the Australian top scorers Michaels Clarke (75) and Hussey (65 n o). Clarke was dropped by James Franklin at backward square leg (similar to but much easier than the catch which Giles dropped from Ponting in the Adelaide Test - I've just checked it on the DVD). Hussey should have been run out by Vettori, who did not gather the ball properly before knocking over the stumps.

Earlier a NZ upper order collapse: 1/5, 2/7, 3/38, 4/53, didn't suggest that the game would run its allotted course, but veteran Craig McMillan took advantage of a Hussey type umpiring decision (ie he looked out but was adjudged not out) to wallop the Australian bowling for 89 from 87 balls. He also inspired the normally modest NZ tail to support him: the 57 runs he added with Franklin for the 8th wicket gave the team something to defend.

The NZ team was reconfigured to strengthen the batting (shades of England in the Tests!) with spinner and good fielder Patel omitted for Hamish Marshall. The four specialist bowlers didn't let the side down and captain Fleming bowled them out in the quest for victory. This left the dibbly dobblers Astle and McMillan to plug the fifth bowler gap just as Symonds and White had done for Australia, with equally modest success.

If Australia has an Achilles heel at present it's with the fifth bowling position (though some of the batting needs to improve as well).

NZ exceeded my expectations. Their bowling is, dare I say it without sounding too patronising, surprisingly good, even without Bond. The word is that reinforcements in the form of Jacob Oram and possibly Steve Styris are on the way. If they are fully fit they will strengthen both batting and bowling, and certainly be a match for England and perhaps even provide Australia with another challenge like today's. I'm looking forward to the NZ _ England match here on Tuesday.


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