Thrilling fare from traditional rivals

MAN OF THE MATCH GLENN McGRATH-S. SUBRAMANIUM

Contests involving archrivals are almost always riveting. The trans-Tasman rivalry featuring Australia and New Zealand proved this perception right at the Punjab Association Cricket Ground in Mohali. Over to G. Viswanath.

Australia and New Zealand bring in a special flavour to world cricket. The cricketers of the two nations divided by the Tasman Sea love to skirmish with each other. Their captains are asked any number of questions as to what makes an Australia-New Zealand clash a thrilling affair.

Ricky Ponting and Stephen Fleming had to go through the routine at Mohali on the eve of the ICC Champions Trophy semifinal clash. The Australian captain said in one word, "No", when asked if New Zealand was superior to his team in any department of the game. Fleming's rejoinder was: "That's how the Aussies like to think of themselves. They don't think they have weaknesses.''

Ponting, however, highlighted the points that New Zealand always tried to lift its game when pitted against Australia and that fast bowler Shane Bond had been his team's chief tormentor. "Well, for me the Gilly-Bond contest sets up the match and it excites me. Bond really charges up when playing against the best. Our performances are measured on how well we play against Australia,'' said Fleming.

As it transpired, the semifinal evolved into a titanic struggle with either team enjoying moments of ascendancy before Australia outsmarted its rival by 34 runs in the presence of a goodly crowd at the Punjab Cricket Association Ground. The Daljit Singh-prepared pitch, which aided bounce and seam movement, was in a way responsible for demanding a high degree of skill from the batsmen. There was swing to be had, too, for the bowlers.

JACOB ORAM AND DANIEL VETTORI put up a brave fight, but in vain.-AP

Australia's opening pair, Adam Gilchrist and Shane Watson, perished owing to their own fault and not because there was something special in the deliveries from Kyle Mills, whose speed was some five kmph slower than that of his illustrious partner, Bond. But right through the competition Mills had shown the knack of effecting early breakthroughs. Watson pulled from nowhere and skied a catch, while Gilchrist's flick off the full face of the bat did not go beyond the hands of short square leg.

The Australians thrive under pressure and none other than Ponting took the responsibility of steadying the ship rocked by these two early blows. In his nearly two-hour occupation of the crease, the dapper Tasmanian brought to the fore his technical proficiency in blunting swing and cut.

Bond looked dangerous, bending the ball a couple of times to thrill the spectators and causing doubts in the batsmen's mind. Bond and Mills rarely gave an opportunity to defend on the back foot, though Damien Martyn, along with Ponting, used his soft hands to deflect the ball on the leg side.

The Ponting-Martyn partnership that repaired the early damage was crucial to Australia's intentions of putting up a fighting total on the board. Martyn fell to left-arm spinner Daniel Vettori, with Fleming opting to take the third power play from the 21st over. It was a master stroke that brought a halt to the ominous partnership. Another feature of the third wicket stand was the number of straight drives struck by Ponting and Martyn. Australia made 249, thanks to Ponting's brilliant 58 and Andrew Symonds' sensible effort that also produced a valuable 58. Mills was rewarded with four wickets for a great show of enterprise, but if one were to pick the best among these three in the first innings, it had to be Ponting, for his footwork, show of defiance and attack and a strong will.

The result of Ponting's extraordinary undertaking was evident when Glenn McGrath and Co. reduced New Zealand to 35 for six in the first 15 overs. McGrath, Lee, Bracken and Johnson showed what a formidable foursome they can be.

Jacob Oram and Daniel Vettori fought back with a century partnership, but eventually the left-arm spinner ran out of reliable partners and had to throw away his wicket after making 79, the highest score of the semifinal, after coming in to bat at No. 8.

New Zealand put up a brave fight, and as Ponting said after the match, it would have been a phenomenal effort had Vettori and Oram taken New Zealand to the winning post.

The Scores

Australia v New Zealand, semifinal, Punjab C. A. Stadium, Mohali, Chandigarh, November 1, 2006. Australia won by 34 runs.

Australia: A. C. Gilchrist c Oram b Mills 3; S. R. Watson c Fulton b Mills 0; R. T. Ponting c Vettori b Mills 58; D. R. Martyn lbw b Vettori 26; M. E. K. Hussey c Marshall b Franklin 35; A. Symonds b Bond 58; M. J. Clarke c Vettori b Mills 14; B. Lee b Bond 5; M. G. Johnson (run out) 3; N. W. Bracken (not out) 15; G. D. McGrath (not out) 0; Extras (lb-6, w-14, nb-3) 23; Total (for nine wickets, 50 overs) 240.

Fall of wickets: 1-3, 2-4, 3-70, 4-123, 5-188, 6-211, 7-220, 8-223, 9-236.

New Zealand bowling: Mills 10-1-38-4; Bond 10-0-55-2; Franklin 8-1-48-1; Oram 10-1-43-0; Vettori 10-0-41-1; Astle 2-0-9-0. New Zealand: L. Vincent c Ponting b McGrath 1; S. P. Fleming c Ponting b Bracken 15; N. J. Astle b Lee 0; H. J. H. Marshall c Gilchrist b McGrath 5; P. G. Fulton b McGrath 2; J. D. P. Oram st. Gilchrist b Symonds 43; B. B. McCullum c Martyn b Bracken 1; D. L. Vettori b Johnson 79; J. E. C. Franklin c Gilchrist b Watson 8; K. D. Mills c Gilchrist b Lee 21; S. E. Bond (not out) 9; Extras (lb-7, w-13, nb-2) 22; Total (all out, in 46 overs) 206.

Fall of wickets: 1-16, 2-20, 3-30, 4-30, 5-34, 6-35, 7-138, 8-159, 9-180.

Australia bowling: Lee 8-0-31-2; McGrath 10-2-22-3; Bracken 7-1-36-2; Johnson 7-0-38-1;Watson 7-0-27-1; Symonds 7-0-45-1.