Black Caps claim stirring win as Australia tastes defeat again
Australia's aspirations of claiming a spot in this season's VB Series finals suffered another grave blow tonight as a brave New Zealand team inflicted a 23-run defeat on the home country here in Sydney.
The Australians entered the match with two losses behind them and with ground to make up on both New Zealand and competition pacesetter South Africa. They started well enough to that end; pace bowlers Glenn McGrath (0/22) and Jason Gillespie (1/28) making both life and scoring difficult for their opponents after the tourists had won the toss and elected to bat.
But their game fell away, a combination of shoddy fielding and lack of resolve from their middle order batsmen ultimately leaving them marooned eight points behind both the Kiwis and the Proteas on the competition table.
"We are playing loose shots and not concentrating as well as we should be; we are just not winning the big moments in the match," mused a disappointed Australian captain, Steve Waugh, after he had watched his team plummet to a total of 212 as it pursued New Zealand's 9/235.
It was its second 23-run loss to the Black Caps after exactly the same result had been reached in the opening match of the series in Melbourne six days ago.
"We got into a position were we could win the match and then we played some loose shots.
"We're not playing well but we'll get ourselves out of it. It's not the end of the world, and we'll come back from here."
Much as they did in Melbourne, the Australians failed to capitalise after working their way into strong positions. After being 6/182 in the 43rd over, the Kiwis should never really have been able to extend their score as far as they did, but the batting of Chris Harris (42*), wayward bowling and erratic fielding changed the complexion of the match.
And then, after Michael Bevan (66) had appeared to be leading a measured Australian chase, another disastrous middle and lower order collapse scuppered the home side's cause completely. A total of six wickets crashed for just 38 runs at the end of the innings as the redoubtable Harris (3/37) and paceman Shane Bond (2/28) helped themselves to the majority of the spoils.
Even the Australians' efforts in maintaining a slow over rate - though this time it was a serious enough indiscretion to incur a one-over penalty from match referee Hanumant Singh - had similarities with the teams' Melbourne encounter.
"We knew that we needed early wickets and particularly the key wicket of Mark Waugh once again," said stand-in New Zealand captain, Chris Cairns.
"He has been a thorn in our side for years."
The run out of Waugh (0) and the departure of Ricky Ponting (11) to a loose drive at Bond gave the Black Caps unmistakable early momentum.
But it wasn't until they shifted Bevan and aggressive debutant Ryan Campbell (38) that they truly began to swing the match their way.
Bevan's departure, to a catch at slip off Cairns (1/32), represented the most crucial breakthrough of all, opening the way for Damien Martyn (24), Shane Warne (14), Ian Harvey (6) and Brett Lee (1) to follow him back to the pavilion in quick succession.
Martyn was unlucky to be run out as Harvey drove back fiercely into the stumps at the non-striker's end off a thin touch from then bowler Cairns.
But he was the only one who could say he was genuinely unfortunate to lose his wicket. Each of the other batsmen was easily conquered by an attack that overcame earlier profligacy in gifting a stream of wides and no-balls.
New Zealand's plans had been thrown into chaos shortly before the match when captain Stephen Fleming was struck on the forearm in a warm-up session and forced to seek precautionary x-rays at a local hospital. He was later cleared of a broken arm and should be available to play in the team's next match of the series - against South Africa in Brisbane on Saturday.
An even happier outcome arrived by the end of the night as the Australians' plans - rather than their own - were the ones shown to be turning the most awry.