Ponting ton helps Australia to early honours
Australia 3 for 255 (Ponting 107*, Gilchrist 51, Clarke 48) beat New Zealand 7 for 254 (McCullum 96, Taylor 50) by seven wickets
Ricky Ponting settled the first of several scores against New Zealand, his 24th one-day century leading Australia to a seven-wicket victory in the Chappell-Hadlee Series opener in Adelaide. He dodged the rain to drive them home with 45 deliveries remaining after a 25-ball fifty from Adam Gilchrist and Michael Clarke's 48.
Ponting's run-a-ball hundred left New Zealand with no answers. He was as composed as ever, putting his bat where his mouth was, after promising to do his utmost to regain the title. He couldn't have done much more, and received decent support from Clarke before he and Andrew Symonds finished the job.
Australia may have taken the early honours, but New Zealand will be largely satisfied by the way they handled the pace as McCullum made good their pledge not to crumble against the fast men. McCullum earned his highest one-day score of 96, although their 7 for 254 was somewhat below par on a flat track.
Daniel Vettori's bold decision to face their speed demons first up appeared to be paying off when they were well-set at 1 for 115, yet two quick wickets for Shaun Tait, in his first international match at his home ground, and then McCullum's dismissal to Brad Hogg, applied the brakes. Ross Taylor injected some late momentum with 50, as did Jacob Oram with an unbeaten 32, but Australia's bowlers regrouped well and were backed up by decent fielding.
Gilchrist and Hayden then raced to fifty inside five overs, almost as if Hayden was getting a taste for the Twenty20 he missed out on earlier this week. But when Hayden popped a soft catch back to Mills for 17 and Gilchrist perished soon after, not waiting to see if Taylor had taken the skier to deep cover off Chris Martin, Australia were temporarily stopped in their tracks.
Ponting and Clarke then rebuilt, patiently at first - Ponting was even content to pat out a maiden to Martin - but they were beginning to move through the gears, including a fifty for Ponting, when the rain came. The 45-minute break, with no overs lost, merely upped the ante further, Ponting dashing to another ruthlessly efficient hundred from as many balls while Clarke blended seamlessly with him until falling to Kyle Mills. Symonds was then dropped by Oram early off Mark Gillespie but it hardly mattered as Australia were well up with the run-rate.
New Zealand's star was McCullum, who collected at nearly a run a ball and struck 12 fours and a six, and he was a ready example of how to attack fast bowling. He combined well with Jamie How in a stand of 99 and Taylor in a partnership of 52.
The visitors admitted before the match that pace had been a weakness, but McCullum in particular stood up to everything that Australia - in the mighty form of Brett Lee, Nathan Bracken and Tait - could throw (er, bowl) at him. Though McCullum was cut in half more times than a busy magician's assistant early on, it was soon his turn to do the slicing with some terrific drives and cuts until he carved out just short of a hundred.
Tait, whose action was questioned before the game by New Zealand, also got the treatment with one over disappearing for three cover-driven fours, but he came back strongly in a crucial second spell which produced edges from How and Scott Styris. In his third, he cleaned up Vettori (18) with a yorker, by which time the damage was done. New Zealand now need a win in the second match at Sydney on Sunday to stay in the series, while Australia are one step closer to Ponting's aim of adding yet another trophy to their cabinet.
Jenny Thompson is an assistant editor at Cricinfo