This title may seem unfair as NZ came within 8 runs of beating Australia in a high scoring match played in Perth today. Yet Stephen Fleming in the post match interview acknowledged the truth of it.
The Black Caps did have the worst of the conditions, having to field first in temperatures which were well into the 40s for the first hour or so, during which time Matthew Hayden was missed twice. Not surprisingly he rode his luck and made a century. Ricky Ponting relied more on skill to record yet another hundred and the middle order hitters Symonds, Hussey and White each accelerated in the final overs to register what looked like, especially after the low scores previously in this tri-series, an unbeatable 5/343 from 50 overs (actually 48 as the first two of the innings were maidens) . Several of the bowlers were unlucky with dropped catches but only Vettori (who blotted his copybook by dropping an easy catch from Hayden before he'd scored) bowled economically.
I doubt whether anyone expected NZ to win, but I reckon everyone hoped that they'd make a reasonable fist of their reply. They certainly did this as Lou Vincent , Stephen Fleming and Peter Fulton brought up 100 in 105 balls for the loss of only one wicket. I don't know why Vincent isn't guaranteed a permanent place against Australia as he always seems to perform well. He did so again tonight with 66/82b (and given out l b w when the replay showed he'd hit the ball). Even so wickets fell at regular intervals, two of them to Michael Clarke, who is clearly being groomed to be at least part of the solution to Australia's spin bowling problem.
When Clarke bowled Ross Taylor NZ were 5/198 in the 36th over. That looked to be the end of the contest. Jacob Oram and Brendon McCullum thought otherwise and launched a sensible assault, as they'd done against England in Adelaide, starting relatively slowly but accelerating (in Oram's case dramatically) in the final overs. Unfortunately the asking rate always looked to be just out of their reach, and so it turned out. A brief pause for rain didn't help them to maintain their momentum either. Nevertheless it was an impressive attempt, and one which exposed a few frailties in the Australian bowling and fielding . In his post match interview Ponting acknowledged this.
For their part NZ must keep working on all aspects of their game. Oram has now had two excellent innings: his highest two in ODIs, with tonight's being the fastest ever century by a New Zealander. He's no longer, as The Australian patronisingly described him last week, "the poor man's Chris Cairns", but he can't be expected to keep producing batting like these last two innings each time he goes to the wicket.
NZ now are clear favourites for the second spot in the finals. It's hard to see England, even if Michael Vaughan returns to bolster the troubled batting, regrouping sufficiently after their recent drubbings to be sufficiently competitive.