Astle helps NZ win thriller
New Zealand 6 for 247 (Astle 70, Marshall 50*) beat Australia 9 for 246 (Gilchrist 68, Lehmann 50) by 4 wickets
Scorecard and ball-by-ball details
In a gripping match under the lights of Melbourne's Telstra Dome, where the advantage flashed from side to side, New Zealand collected their first win of a horror tour when Brendon McCullum stole a single from the third-last delivery. New Zealand had a demoralising and dispiriting Test-series loss at Adelaide five days ago, but a change of clothes has made a world of difference.
New Zealand have been in Australia for almost a month, but finally the summer had a close contest. In a crisis in whites, they were unable to eye the world champions during the two Tests, but chasing Australia's 246 they were as cool as the stadium's air-conditioning in the final 10 overs even though the result was in doubt.
The 48th over virtually sealed the four-wicket victory, as Michael Kasprowicz was belted for 22. It included one delivery which went for five wides, and two fours to McCullum and one to Hamish Marshall, who combined for a thrilling 39-run stand off 21 balls. Marshall, the Man of the Match, timed his innings perfectly while McCullum's 20 from 13 provided the late-innings burst they had always planned.
Nathan Astle and Mathew Sinclair set the platform for the acceleration with a 128-run partnership that followed a fine bowling comeback, and the Aussies were in a contest for the first time since the second day of the Brisbane Test. Australia briefly regained control after Sinclair was run out by Andrew Symonds after backing up too far to make it 2 for 128.
A run was never an option, and Sinclair's snooze was even more costly as Astle departed in the next over for 70 off 102 balls when Ricky Ponting caught him spectacularly. The run-chase faltered briefly, but Marshall, Jacob Oram and Chris Cairns kept them close enough to pounce. Then Marshall and McCullum took to Kasprowicz. Australia, so dominant during the Test series, now face two must-win games at Sydney on Wednesday and Brisbane on Friday to lift the glittering new Chappell-Hadlee Trophy.
Brett Lee, who only got his opportunity when Australia rested Jason Gillespie and Glenn McGrath, their two most experienced bowlers, was happy to be finally marking his run-up and raised the excitement levels of Australian fans expecting another New Zealand walloping. He thudded a 152kph delivery into Stephen Fleming's pads with the second ball of the innings, and a second wicket popped out of Ponting's hands when Sinclair dabbed at an outswinger. He returned at the death to claim Cairns, the opposition's own returning glamour boy.
Cairns has decided to play only one-day matches, and he showed how much New Zealand missed him during the Tests when he joined Daniel Vettori in pegging back a dangerous early onslaught. They applied the brakes after sending the opposition in and then inflicted serious damage as Australia's early sprint became a limp.
Adam Gilchrist had launched Australia's one-day summer with a spectacular 68 from 54 balls, and they looked like reaching 300 without breaking into a sweat. The speedy opening partnership was ended by a sensational catch by Sinclair on the boundary at square leg. Diving full-length to his left, Sinclair grabbed the chance from Matthew Hayden off Oram (1 for 64). Vettori then snapped up the middle order with three wickets, but it had been Cairns who had prompted an Australian collapse - four wickets for 10 in 18 balls.
Cairns has spent his time away growing a bushranger's beard, and he watched Australia reach 50 in the seventh over by attacking Kyle Mills and Ian Butler. He slowed the run-rate and grabbed the crucial breakthrough when he surprised Gilchrist with one that ducked in through his defence (2 for 113). Relieved to have ended Gilchrist's fireworks, New Zealand celebrated again when Vettori trapped Ponting lbw, despite an under-edge, and cheered again when Symonds and Damien Martyn soon followed. Symonds mis-hit Vettori to Mills at mid-on while yet to score, and Australia were under pressure at 5 for 123.
Darren Lehmann, who finished with a half-century in even time, and Michael Clarke put on 71 for the sixth wicket to stop the rot before Cairns hit Clarke's leg stump. When Butler found Shane Watson's edge, Australia had to give up on reaching 250 - unthinkable 30 overs before. They finally managed 246, but it wasn't enough.
Peter English is Australasian editor of Cricinfo.