THE contrast was striking. Three slips and two gullies were in place, two big fast men thundered in, the ball moved off the seam, there was bounce and zip as the ball nestled in the 'keeper's gloves. For the batsmen, survival appeared hazardous.
Yet, only in the morning when the pitch should have been much fresher, one saw a totally different scenario. The ball was being dismissed to all corners of the ground that even the pace bowlers sought cover. The much-awaited clash between the neighbours turned out to be a no-contest. Australia blew away New Zealand by 164 runs at the Sinhalese Sports Club ground in a Pool 1 duel.
It was indeed an awesome performance from the Aussies who also registered their first victory in this ICC competition, having lost to India in the earlier two editions, when the tournament was played on a knock-out basis.
It was also a match where Glenn McGrath provided yet another reminder to everyone that he may have already booked a place for himself as one of the all-time great pacemen.
In a sensational first spell, McGrath ended the match in terms of a contest picking up five for 37. There was some seam movement for the pacemen in the SSC wicket, and McGrath, given his unwavering line and accuracy, made the most of it. By the end of the 15th over, the game was all but over. The strike bowler had struck.
His pace bowling partner Jason Gillespie provided splendid support from the other end; in fact, he achieved the first breakthrough trapping dangerman Nathan Astle leg-before. And charging in as the first change bowler Brett Lee fired out three batsmen, bowling with blinding pace. It was a commanding performance from Team Australia.
For the record, Australia, electing to bat, made 296 for seven in 50 overs, with useful contributions right down the order. Openers Adam Gilchrist and Matthew Hayden made 44 and 43, and captain Ricky Ponting (37), Damien Martyn (73), Darren Lehmann (35), all contributed, emphasising the value of team-work.
Jason Gillespie gets a big wicket, that of Nathan Astle. Damien Martyn, the top-scorer for Australia, hammers Chris Harris.
Gilchrist blazed away at the start with 44 off 30 balls, that included seven fours and a six. This was exhilarating stuff.
Then Martyn's 87-ball 73 was a classy knock, with the batsman coming up with pleasing drives and flicks, and finding the gaps with ease. Among the Kiwi bowlers, only left-arm spinner Daniel Vettori managed to earn the respect of the Aussies returning figures of 10-1-25-1. Fine bowling in the context of the innings.
But the pacemen, including the quickest bowler in the Kiwi ranks, Shane Bond, came under the hammer and Australia ended up just four short of the 300-run mark.
In the past, New Zealand had displayed the resolve to go after targets, and invariably either got close or won. However, this was one occasion when it caved in under the Australian pace assault. Swept away really.
Shane Warne finishes off the New Zealand innings, getting Shane Bond stumped by Adam Gilchrist. Daniel Vettori, the best Kiwi bowler on view in terms of economy, castles Matthew Hayden.
After the match, Kiwi skipper Stephen Fleming said, "We made their bowlers look unplayable. They did bowl a good line. It was a good wicket and we batted poorly under pressure. To put up a good score on the board you have to be aggressive. When you are aggressive, you push the limits. The limits today were too far for us with lots of wickets falling right from the second over, all the way through. We had no partnerships and no tempo. They dominated the game obviously."
Australian skipper Ponting had words of praise for his pacemen: "McGrath and Gillespie are two of the best fast bowlers in the world. They bowl in the right area and they hit the seam upright. If there is anything in the wicket, they get something out of it. It makes my job as captain, a little bit easy."The scores:
Australia: A. Gilchrist c Sinclair b Tuffey 44; M. Hayden b Vettori 43; R. Ponting c Fleming b Bond 37; D. Martyn c Harris b Bond 73; D. Lehmann c Vettori b Mills 35; M. Bevan b Oram 21; S. Watson (not out) 19; S. Warne c Bond b Oram 0; B. Lee (not out) 4. Extras (lb-6, nb-7, w-7) 20. Total (for seven wkts. in 50 overs) 296.
Fall of wickets: 1-68, 2-129, 3-143, 4-217, 5-272, 6-276, 7-290.
New Zealand bowling: Bond 10-1-63-2, Mills 9-0-49-1, Tuffey 6-1-55-1, Oram 10-0-60-2, Vettori 10-1-25-1, Harris 5-0-38-0.
New Zealand: S. Fleming lbw b McGrath 12; N. Astle lbw b Gillespie 0; M. Sinclair c Gilchrist b McGrath 18; L. Vincent c Martyn b McGrath 0; S. Styris c Gilchrist b McGrath 16; C. Harris b Lee 19; J. Oram b McGrath 1; D. Vettori lbw b Lee 6; K. Mills (not out) 23; D. Tuffey c Warne b Lee 0; S. Bond st. Gilchrist b Warne 26. Extras: (b-4, lb-3, nb-2, w-2) 11. Total (in 26.2 overs) 132.
Fall of wickets: 1-7, 2-17, 3-17, 4-44, 5-49, 6-51, 7-71, 8-78, 9-82.
Australia bowling: McGrath 7-1-37-5, Gillespie 7-1-29-1, Lee 6-0-38-3, Watson 6-1-19-0, Warne 0.2-0-2-1.
GLENN McGRATH'S burst at the Sinhalese Sports Club ground will be remembered for long by the goodly Sunday crowd that turned up for the Australia-New Zealand game.
It was not a red-hot spell in terms of pace, nor did he move the ball extravagantly. McGrath just did the simple things right, the essence of any kind of bowling.
He pitched the ball in the right area, on or just outside the off-stump, bowled the three-quarters length, moved the ball away just a shade, straightened the odd one, while his height and high arm action enabled him to gain good bounce.
Appears easy, but actually requires countless hours of practice, and when a paceman gets so many simple aspects right, he becomes dangerous, in fact deadly.
McGrath keeps it so tight, not giving width on either side of the wicket, chokes the batsmen and then consumes them with his wicket-taking balls.
McGrath's high quality bowling was seen in all its glory when the Kiwis batted in the afternoon. The New South Welshman was ruthless really. Stephen Fleming was the first of his victims, trapped leg-before by a delivery that held its line. McGrath removed Lou Vincent with his next ball, the Kiwi nicking a fine delivery that moved away from him, after drawing him into a stroke, to Damien Martyn at second slip. McGrath missed out on a hat-trick, but was not finished yet.
Scott Styris attempted to take the Aussie on, but yet another one of McGrath's laser guided deliveries found the edge of the Kiwi's swinging blade and 'keeper Gilchrist did the rest. And Matthew Sinclair soon started to walk back, snared outside the off-stump like so many of McGrath's victims.
McGrath's next victim, his fifth, marked a rather special occasion for the bowler. The left-handed Jacob Oram, who shouldered arms only to find the delivery disturbing his stumps after clipping his pads, became McGrath's 250th scalp in ODIs. The fast bowler became the toast of his mates.
When the New South Welshman took his cap back from the umpire, he had five wickets for 37 runs. It was a spell where all his virtues as a fine paceman were on display.
Later on, McGrath dwelt on his performance and his methods: "I was looking forward to a good performance today. I worked on a new run-up in Kenya and changed it slightly. The rhythm was back a little bit today. All in all I got the balls in the right areas to get wickets, so I'll take that. I land the ball pretty much where I want to. I think my accuracy is probably my biggest key and a little bit of bounce as well. No matter what pace you bowl at, if you land the ball 99 times out of a hundred, where you want to land it, then you will take wickets."