Astle shows the way

It was a day when Astle played a steady and purposeful innings and recorded his 13th century. He had Chris Cairns for company and the aggressive allrounder, too, put his head down and helped Astle raise 121 for the fourth wicket. It was a partnership that won the match for New Zealand. When the Black Caps returned to Bloemfontein for the Super Six league match against Zimbabwe, they were reminded about the tentative start they had made in the competition. Sanath Jayasuriya's century had taken the match and four points away from them.

G. VISWANATH

NATHAN ASTLE had batted at No. 3 only five times in his 171 one-day matches when he was sent in at the fall of Craig McMillan at Bloemfontein against Zimbabwe. Astle's previous 12 centuries had all come when he had opened (154 innings overall). The odds were stacked against him, but it was a day when Astle played a steady and purposeful innings and recorded his 13th century. He had Chris Cairns for company and the aggressive allrounder, too, put his head down and helped Astle raise 121 for the fourth wicket. It was a partnership that won the match for New Zealand. When the Black Caps returned to Bloemfontein for the Super Six league match against Zimbabwe, they were reminded about the tentative start they had made in the competition. Sanath Jayasuriya's century had taken the match and four points away from them.

Nathan Astle rediscovered his touch to crack a hundred. — Pic. REUTERS-

Stephen Fleming admitted he had made mistakes, but he did not allow his team to buckle under pressure. He took his team to Port Elizabeth and beat the West Indies, went to Newlands and whipped the South Africans. Thereafter, his team went on to beat Canada and Bangladesh and conceded four points to Kenya by absenting itself from the match at Nairobi.

Fleming's team had indeed done some good work. But, for a while, it appeared that bad luck would haunt them at Blomfontein after Zimbabwe skipper Heath Streak and Sean Ervine plundered 62 runs in the last three overs.

It was just that Fleming allowed things to drift. But on a good batting deck the Kiwis applied their mind and won their first Super Six match by a handsome margin of six wickets with 16 balls to spare.

Astle was mainly instrumental in taking his team to the finish line. He has been New Zealand's match-winner several times in the past, although he has not always been the Man of the Match. New Zealand has now won 12 of the 13 matches in which Astle has scored a hundred.

Like many batsmen in this competition, most notably Pakistan's Inzamam-ul-Haq and Sri Lanka's Mahela Jayawardene, Astle had been struggling for runs. It was time someone in the Kiwi ranks demonstrated his worth in a crucial match. Fleming had shown the way in Newlands against South Africa. He was in good touch against Zimbabwe, too, while dispatching Streak, Douglas Hondo and Andy Blignaut. He drove fluently on both sides of the wicket and in all struck 10 fours in his 46 (41 balls) before falling leg before to Blignaut, the tendency to shuffle and not step back and across having him in trouble once again.

Fleming left the scene abruptly to the third ball of the 14th over when the score was 72. Earlier, Craig McMillan had been dismissed in the sixth over. Blignaut struck for the second time when he removed Scott Styris with the score at 97. Until now Zimbabwe, playing its first match in South Africa, was in control, but then Astle went about his job and completed it with clinical efficiency.

It was a little over a year ago that Astle had scored his 12th one-day century. That was the time when he was in blazing form, scoring the fastest double century in Test cricket against England. He scored 122 against Nasser Hussain's team in the one-dayer at Carisbrook in February 2002, so another century was due any time.

Fortunately for New Zealand he chose a World Cup match to make an unbeaten 102 in a little more than three hours. He struck eleven boundaries. His partnership with Cairns exposed Zimbabwe's attack which was good in patches when Andy Blignaut and Grant Flower were in action. Guy Whittall and Ervine were no good and even Streak looked a spent force.

Zimbabwe might have been outclassed had it not been for the end overs mayhem authored by Streak and Ervine. Fleming did not know how to set a field. He made tactical moves but they did not work. Shane Bond bowled out his 10 overs by the 27th and Jacob Oram finished his quota a little afterwards.

After Dion Ebrahim fell to a first ball duck, Zimbabwe recovered partially through Craig Wishart and Andy Flower. They put on 54 runs before Wishart threw caution to the winds and gifted his wicket to Chris Cairns. What followed was even worse, a setback from which Zimbabwe did not recover until Streak and Ervine smashed Harris, Vettori and Adams.

The Black Caps were smart on the field and ran out Andy Flower and Blignaut. Astle's direct hit from mid off found Flower short and wicketkeeper Brendon McCullum and Vettori combined well to remove Blignaut.

New Zealand appeared to be running away with the match when Zimbabwe was 106 for six, but young Tatenda Taibu launched a spirited fightback and kept Fleming's XI on the field. Taibu (53, 79b, 3x4, 1x6) collected runs off Andre Adams, Vettori and Harris. Taibu and Streak forged a stand of 68 before the latter started the onslaught. The Kiwi bowling, except for Bond, was ordinary and Streak and Ervine enjoyed themselves.

The scores:

Zimbabwe: C. Wishart c Styris b Cairns 30; D. Ebrahim b Adams 0; A. Flower (run out) 37; G. Flower c Cairns b Oram 1; G. Whittall c McCullum b Cairns 0; T. Taibu lbw b Harris 53; A. Blignaut (run out) 4; H. Streak (not out) 72; S. Ervine (not out) 31; Extras (lb-9, nb-2, w-13) 24; Total (for seven wickets in 50 overs) 252.

Fall of wickets: 1-5, 2-59, 3-63, 4-65, 5-98, 6-106, 7-174.

New Zealand bowling: Bond 10-1-37-0, Adams 5-0-54-1, Oram 10-4-28-1, Cairns 4-0-16-2, Vettori 10-0-52-0, Harris 10-0-45-1, Astle 1-0-11-0.

New Zealand: C. McMillan c Taibu b Hondo 8; S. Fleming lbw b Blignaut 46; N. Astle (not out) 102; S. Styris c sub b Blignaut 13; C. Cairns b Ervine 54; C. Harris (not out) 14; Extras (lb-5, w-10, nb-1) 16; Total (for four wickets in 47.2 overs) 253.

Fall of wickets: 1-27, 2-72, 3-97, 4-218.

Zimbabwe bowling: Streak 10-0-59-0, Hondo 8.2-0-52-1, Blignaut 10-0-41-2, G. Flower 10-0-33-0, Whittall 3-0-19-0, Ervine 6-0-44-1.