A cracking good match

IN the last four or five years the Trans-Tasman contests between Australia and New Zealand have turned out to be engaging. The Black Caps were caught napping at Faridabad, but the teams' second meeting at Pune in the TVS Cup tri-series had many twists and turns before Australia emerged victorious.

G. VISWANATH

Brad Williams gets rid of Craig McMillan -- Pic. VIVEK BENDRE-

IN the last four or five years the Trans-Tasman contests between Australia and New Zealand have turned out to be engaging. The Black Caps were caught napping at Faridabad, but the teams' second meeting at Pune in the TVS Cup tri-series had many twists and turns before Australia emerged victorious. Fleming could have easily won encomiums, but Australia's Andy Symonds snatched it away from him with two big blows and huge slices of luck in the end when Brendan McCullum and Scott Styris put down catches. Australia beat New Zealand by two wickets to take five points.

The pitch prepared for the match had a lot to do with the initial setbacks suffered by New Zealand. But it made a fine recovery through Jacob Oram (81, 87b, 12 x 4, 1 x 6) and McCullum (51 not out, 47b, 6 x 4, 1 x 6). For two hours after Brad Williams had dispatched the top order Kiwi batsmen to the dressing room, the number of shots that raced to the fence seemed to mock at the earlier batsmen who had been all at sea. New Zealand's fightback was splendid, but its total of 258 was simply not good enough.

Many curious things take place before a big match in India. Loitering on the pitch earmarked for the match or making many visits to inspect it have been fashionable for years. Often an invitation for free tours of the pitch are extended by the chief groundsman. What follows once one is on the fringe of the pitch is a long discourse on the ingredients that have gone into its making, how much it has been watered and rolled and how it would behave between 9 and 10 a.m. and thereafter. These days the Board's representative, who is supposed to be an expert, is on hand to tell you a lot more.

Pune's Municipal Corporation owned Nehru Stadium pitch has over the years earned the notorious reputation of being a bowlers' nightmare. However, Javagal Srinath's incisive spell before he went to Australia for his maiden Test series, Pradeep Sundaram's 10-wicket haul in an innings and Manoj Prabhakar and Rajinder Singh Ghai's fine efforts against an England team have been to the contrary. Bowlers who have bent their backs and possessed the skills to use the seam have always captured a bagful.

On the eve of the clash, after fears of rain disrupting the match had been dispelled, debates revolved around what damage the moisture in the pitch would cause to the team batting first. The Black Caps' captain Fleming thought that the seamers would be successful in the first hour or so. Maharashtra's former all-rounder Srikant Jadhav said that "the ball would climb and seam a lot for an hour and more and that conditions would be much easier for strokemaking afterwards."

Batting first on a pitch with a lot of moisture was fraught with danger. Fleming had learnt his lessons in Faridabad. Unfortunately at Pune, it was his Australian counterpart, Ricky Ponting, who won the toss and put the Kiwis in. Moreover, the former chairman of selectors, Chandu Borde, made in-charge of the pitch by the ad hoc committee organising the match, stuck to his guns by leaving quite some grass on the pitch. This evoked an observation from Fleming that two tournaments were being run at the same time; one for the home team on slow pitches and another for New Zealand and Australia on grassy pitches with the matches starting at 9 a.m.

Brad Williams, Man of the Match. -- Pic. VIVEK BENDRE-

The demon in the pitch at Faridabad resulted in a horrible performance by the Kiwis. The match itself was finished in 50.2 overs, after Fleming opted to bat and his team was shot out for 97. In a week's time, New Zealand was invited to bat first at Pune and by the 15th over it was facing the music at 68 for 5, Brad Williams causing most of the damage, taking four wickets in his first spell of seven overs.

Then, after an amazing, nail-biting finish in the 100th over of the match following a sequence of dramatic events, Ponting said "his team might have been in the same plight as the Kiwis had it batted first." He said "Daryl Tuffey and his partners were capable of exploiting the conditions."

Fleming was one of the top-order Kiwi batsmen, though, who was able to take his concentration levels high. He saw from the non-striker's end as Williams' deliveries hit the pad in front of the wicket, knocked back the stumps and took the edge on way to catching positions.

Fleming took the responsibility of facing Nathan Bracken whose deliveries bowled from over the wicket, searched for the outside edge. The Kiwi captain missed a few times, but on a pitch that afforded extra bounce and seamed many more inches, this was bound to happen. Fleming played out 150 minutes, struck four 4s and made 40 runs. Two flicked fours, sent thundering to the on side boundaries, following a caught and bowled chance missed by Ian Harvey, gave hints of his willingness to take charge. But Andy Symonds got rid of him, with Harvey happy to take the catch.

But the lower order Kiwi batsmen made 152 runs and this gave an opportunity for Fleming to apply pressure. Tuffey's opening burst just about appeared to be doing the trick with Australia losing Ponting (65 for four) in the 15th over.

Michael Clarke counter-attacked brilliantly to wrest the initiative from the Kiwis. Here he punishes Daniel Vettori. — Pic. VIVEK BENDRE-

But Michael Clarke and Michael Bevan exposed the chinks in the Kiwi attack. The junior partner in the fifth-wicket pair, Clarke, provided a platform. His 70 off 80 balls with eight fours and a six swung the match in favour of his side. The partnership of 108 lifted Australia to a position from where the lower order batsmen took charge. The unbeaten 37 by Symonds who hit Vettori for a four and a six sunk the Kiwis. Harvey made 19 off 19 balls and Andy Bichel made 9 off 11 balls, not many, but all the same valuable runs that went into the Australian kitty. At the press conference, Ponting said "his team had the depth and the character to come out of troubled waters."

The scores:

New Zealand: C. J. Nevin lbw b Williams 0; S. P. Fleming c Harvey b Symonds 40; L. Vincent c Ponting b Williams 1; S. B. Styris lbw b Williams 0; C. D. McMillan b Williams 0; C. L. Cairns lbw b Bichel 27; J. D. P. Oram b Symonds 81; C. Z. Harris c Harvey b Williams 1; B. B. McCullum (not out) 51; D. L. Vettori b Harvey 18; D. R. Tuffey (not out) 1; Extras (lb-4, w-32, nb-2) 38; Total (for nine wickets in 50 overs) 258.

Daryl Tuffey breathed fire in the early part of the Australian innings. One of his four victims was Damien Martyn. — Pic. VIVEK BENDRE-

Fall of wickets: 1-3, 2-10, 3-11, 4-21, 5-68, 6-130, 7-151, 8-219, 9-246.

Australia bowling: Bracken 10-3-39-0; Williams 10-1-53-5; Bichel 9-0-59-1; Harvey 9-1-33-1; Symonds 10-2-56-2; Clarke 2-0-14-0.

Jacob Oram with a splendid 81, gave the Kiwis a fighting total. Here he scampers across for a single, watched by Andrew Symonds . — Pic. VIVEK BENDRE-

Australia: A. C. Gilchrist c Vettori b Tuffey 25; M. L. Hayden c Styris b Tuffey 9; R. T. Ponting b Styris 16; D. R. Martyn b Tuffey 10; M. J. Clarke b Tuffey 70; M. G. Bevan c Harris b Cairns 50; A. Symonds (not out) 37; I. J. Harvey c Styris b Vettori 19; A. J. Bichel c McCullum b Vettori 9; B. A. Williams (not out) 3; Extras (lb-2, w-8, nb-1) 11; Total (for eight wickets in 49.5 overs) 259.

Fall of wickets: 1-34, 2-40, 3-54, 4-65, 5-173, 6-204, 7-231, 8-244.

New Zealand bowling: Tuffey 10-2-30-4; Oram 9.5-0-65-0; Cairns 10-0-48-1; Styris 7-1-31-1; Vettori 8-0-59-2; Harris 5-0-24-0.