Pace bowlers call the shots

THE score-sheet will aptly tell the tale of this match between the Tasman rivals. There were three main players in the skirmish that did not really go to the wire.

G. VISWANATH

THE score-sheet will aptly tell the tale of this match between the Tasman rivals. There were three main players in the skirmish that did not really go to the wire. But there were enough dramatic events in the course of 80 overs in which the result was determined in favour of Australia.

Brett Lee is jubilant after dismissing the New Zealand captain Stephen Fleming. Lee picked up five wickets. _ Pic. V. V. KRISHNAN-

First, there was the New Zealand captain Stephen Fleming who took a big risk by electing to field.

Then Shane Bond electrified the proceedings at the St. George's Park, Port Elizabeth by taking six wickets for 23 runs that put him alongside India's Ashish Nehra in the honours lost for bowlers in this ICC World Cup. And lastly there was Brett Lee, who was hammered for six runs an over in his first spell of five overs, but later returned to take five wickets in 15 balls to send New Zealand tumbling to defeat by 96 runs.

Opinions would vary, but the conditions were not ideal for a one-day international. There was extra bounce for a genuine fast bowler like Bond, who these days sends the ball down consistently between 150 and 154 kmph. The Australian captain, Ricky Ponting, had cried foul about the pitch for his team's match against England and he did not hold his punches after the encounter against New Zealand. He blamed the pitch again.

As the fourth Super Six match progressed, some of the lower order batsmen did not have to bob and weave as did Matthew Hayden, who offered a limp bat and edged Bond to wicketkeeper Brendon McCullum.

For once Michael Bevan was not in a situation to finish off the match. He switched roles. He dropped anchor and let the tail-ender Andy Bichel to make the most of the offerings from the second string Kiwi bowlers.

Bevan batted for two hours and 21 minutes to make 56 (94b, 4 fours and one six) and Bichel (64, 83b, 7 fours and one six) battled it out for one hour and 26 minutes. Eventually, their partnership that produced 97 runs made the big difference between victory and defeat for the Kiwis. Bevan and Bichel's stand enabled Australia to bat for 50 overs.

Bond has been in the news for almost a year now. His clean action and ability to bowl fast without the slightest suspicion in his action have already made a big impact. He has also been consistently troubling the Australians, against whom he has now taken 22 wickets at an average lesser than 13. Fleming provided him another opportunity and the 27-year-old delivered like a champion bowler.

In his first spell of six overs he dismissed Matthew Hayden, Adam Gilchrist, Ricky Ponting and Darren Lehmann and in his second spell he got rid of Brad Hogg and Ian Harvey. It was another classic exhibition of fast bowling seen in the competition following the deeds of Chaminda Vaas, Glenn McGrath, Ashish Nehra and Andy Bichel. There was some assistance from the pitch and the fielders in Fleming, Nathan Astle and Lou Vincent, but Bond also showed skills. He is one of the bowlers who is worth travelling miles to see.

The second bowling performance of the day was a match-winning one. Lee has seldom been effective with the new ball. England's Marcus Trescothick and Nick Knight took him apart, but the fast bowler who very nearly clocked 100 miles per hour against Sri Lanka in the first Super Six league match, was flayed by the Kiwi captain. Jason Gillespie's exit has forced Ponting to lead with McGrath and Lee.

The New Zealand captain has struck some marvellous shots in this World Cup. In this match he played straight drives off McGrath, but the two shots that really appealed were the ones square on the off -side. He was in good nick before Lee came back for his second spell and had his sweet revenge. He had the lefthander edging to Gilchrist and thereafter trapped McCullum in front and knocked back the stumps of Jacob Oram and Andre Adams. The splendid caught and bowled dismissal of Shane Bond by Brett Lee marked the end of New Zealand's innings in 30.1 overs.

At the press conference Ponting vented his anger on the pitch. "It was better than the one on which we played against England. We do not want to get ourselves into too many of these situations. We lost early wickets again which was disappointing. If you put the ball in the right spot then you get the rewards. We have to identify the best way of playing the first 15 overs when we are batting. Both times (England and New Zealand) here we have been four for 40-odd and that is just not good enough.''

After the match, the Chief Executive Officer of the Cricket World Cup 2003, Dr. Ali Bacher, ordered an investigation into the preparation of the pitch. He did not criticise the Eastern Province Association, but said that that a better pitch should be prepared for the semifinal in which Australia will be one of the teams. The groundsman at St. George's Park has been asked to coordinate with experts named by Dr. Bacher.

Fleming said his team's batting was not disciplined and he did not have sufficient `ammo' in the last 10 overs to bowl at Bevan and Bichel, but added that Bond delivered and he had no problems using up his 10 overs during the middle of the innings. "There were some good aspects. We fought pretty well for most part of the game. We were feeling pretty good about ourselves when they were 84 for seven, but we have been there before and we just ran out of juice.''

The New Zealand captain said that it's important to build partnerships while chasing small totals. "The pitch was slow, but the ball did not move about and the pace was adequate for batting.''

The scores:

Australia: A. Gilchrist lbw b Bond 18; M. Hayden b McCullum b Bond 1; R. Ponting c Fleming b Bond 6; D. Martyn c McCullum b Bond 31; D. Lehmann c Astle b Adams 4; M. Bevan c Vincent b Oram 56; B. Hogg lbw b Bond 0; I. Harvey b Bond 2; A. Bichel c Cairns b Oram 64; B. Lee (not out) 15; G. McGrath (not out) 3; Extras: (lb-1, w-4, nb-3) 8; Total (for nine wickets in 50 overs) 208.

Fall of wickets: 1-17, 2-24, 3-31, 4-47, 5-80, 6-80, 7-84, 8-181, 9-192.

New Zealand bowling: Bond 10-2-23-6, Adams 9-2-46-1, Vettori 10-1-40-0, Oram 7-0-48-2, Harris 10-1-24-0, Styris 3-0-18-0, Astle 1-0-8-0.

New Zealand: D. Vettori c Gilchrist b McGrath 10; S. Fleming c Gilchrist b Lee 48; N. Astle c Ponting b McGrath 0; S. Styris lbw b McGrath 3; C. Cairns c Lee b Bichel 16; L. Vincent c Martyn b Harvey 7; C. Harris (not out) 15; B. McCullum lbw b Lee 1; J. Oram b Lee 0; A. Adams b Lee 0; S. Bond c and b Lee 3; Extras: (lb-4, w-5) 9; Total (in 30.1 overs) 112.

Fall of wickets: 1-14, 2-14, 3-33, 4-66, 5-84, 6-102, 7-104, 8-104, 9-108.

Australia bowling: McGrath 6-1-29-3, Lee 9.1-2-42-5, Harvey 6-3-11-1, Bichel 5-0-15-1, Hogg 4-0-11-0.