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Sunday, January 14, 2007

Hat trick at wrong end of innings doesn't help NZ

Like England on Friday, New Zealand weren't able to match Australia's all round cricket in today's one day game at Hobart.

Once again openers Gilchrist and Hayden got off to a cracking start against some untidy bowling from James Franklin and, to a lesser extent, Shane Bond. They raced to 83 at a run a ball before Mark Gillespie, who bowled at a lively pace, induced a leg side edge to the keeper from Hayden. Gilchrist looked to be heading for a century but was l b w to Jeetan Patel for 61 (58b). 2/104 became 3/117 when Ricky Ponting, in a rare appearance in his home state (for whom he still occasionally plays) was caught at short extra cover by his opposite number off Gillespie for 10.

That was the high water mark for NZ.

The middle order Australians gradually accelerated, with Andrew Symonds (69/70b) and Cameron White (45/32b) particularly effective . A total of 300 looked, as it had done for much of the innings, possible until Bond's hat trick (White caught at midwicket, Symonds nicking to the keeper and Bracken bowled by a beauty which just clipped off stump) put that just out of reach.

If NZ thought they had a chance of chasing 289, then losing their first two wickets for 5, one to Nathan Bracken the other to local debutant Ben Hilfenhaus (who looked very impressive), would have dashed their hopes. Captain Fleming (29/47b) and Peter Fulton (37/44b) plugged away while Ross Taylor played well for 84/82b. Taylor was fourth out at 161, followed soon after by Craig McMillan, brilliantly run out by Clarke in yet another demonstration of just how good Australia's fielding is. The rest surrendered meekly to the pressure.

Sure Australia are very good, but what can NZ do to be more competitive? Like England they are suffering more than their fair share of injuries to key players, and not all the replacements, or some of the longer serving players who might otherwise have struggled to keep their places, showed their best today. The batting on paper looks reasonable but today it was found wanting: players like McCullum batted higher in the order than their ability justifies. That said, the attack isn't too bad: Bond and Vettori are good bowlers while Gillespie is promising. Whether Franklin can regroup (and/or recover from today's migraine) and whether Jehan Patel will be able to bring his economy rate down to a level that makes it worthwhile to bowl him for 10 overs, remain to be seen. The fielding isn't too bad either, on recent evidence perhaps better than England's (though Patel looked to have a touch of the Strauss disease - twice he just failed to pick up hits which a Ponting, Clarke or Symonds would probably have caught or at least got a hand to).

On Tuesday NZ play England. I'm tipping England, despite their losing Pietersen. Their batting has more depth (not to mention more players who look capable of improving) and their attack, though similar to NZ's, may have just a little more bite. Each side will need to select its best available team, especially which bowlers to pick.
So I'm tipping England, but won't be betting on them (I haven't even looked at the odds).

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