Elliott guides New Zealand to 2-0 lead
Michael Clarke's 98 could not stop his unthinkable series loss from coming a step closer after Grant Elliott kept a cool head to complete a six-wicket victory for New Zealand, who were solid without being spectacular. Despite making hard work of a less than imposing chase of 226, New Zealand got home with seven balls to spare to take a 2-0 lead in the five-match series.
On a day when the glitzy IPL auction caught the attention of much of the cricketing world, Australia and New Zealand combined to produce a distinctly unglamorous match that was hardly the best advertisement for the 50-over format. It was a throwback to the 1980s, when 220 was considered a good target and top-order men like Geoff Marsh and John Wright were commended for compiling 50 off 90 balls.
The lack of prettiness did not worry New Zealand, who gave their countrymen another reason to celebrate Waitangi Day when Elliott brought up the win with a pull for four off Ben Hilfenhaus. He finished unbeaten on 61 from 75 balls, which was his highest ODI score, and he was the only New Zealand batsmen who looked like truly imposing himself on the match. But as a group they did enough to outshine Australia, who had relied entirely on Clarke and Michael Hussey to post 5 for 225.
It continued Australia's strange trend of losing the next match after the Allan Border Medal ceremony. Not since 2004-05 have they followed the awards night with a win, which is hardly surprising for an event that should really be a season-ending party. In the field Australia were sloppy and with the bat uninspired.
Hussey and Clarke both put down chances - Clarke's a very tough one - an easy run-out opportunity was missed and there were fumbles and overthrows that must have left the fielding coach Mike Young shaking his head. The middling target meant New Zealand's batsmen didn't quite know how aggressive to be - Brendon McCullum's 43 from 75 balls gave them a base but he was uncharacteristically quiet.
Ross Taylor's 47 featured three fours and when he edged behind late in the chase it gave Australia a sniff. But Elliott was superbly calm and his second ODI half-century, along with some excellent support from Neil Broom, ensured that New Zealand did not let the required run-rate balloon beyond control.
The result was terrific for a New Zealand side that enjoys chasing and made the most of the chance to send Australia in. Kyle Mills and Daniel Vettori were the most economical of the bowlers and Iain O'Brien chipped in with the two important wickets of Clarke and Hussey. Importantly, the visitors were sharp in the field.
Vettori's direct hit from mid-off ended the innings of David Hussey (10), who had been promoted to No. 4, and it was one of several alterations to Australia's order. Without the injured Shaun Marsh and the resting Ricky Ponting, they promoted Brad Haddin to No. 3 and after walking to the crease to a mixture of cheers and jeers after the Perth controversy, Haddin departed for 12 when he flashed outside off stump against Tim Southee and was caught behind.
The only change that did work for Australia was the decision to open with Clarke. After David Warner went early, skying an attempted slog off Mills, Clarke took a cautious approach, conscious of the way the middle order had struggled throughout the summer. He and Michael Hussey combined for a 133-run fifth-wicket stand that steadied Australia but their lack of urgency was a concern.
When they did try to lift the rate in the late overs, O'Brien removed them both and added to the hurt by striking Clarke on the toe with a painful yorker. Two balls later Clarke was bowled for a 133-ball 98 that showed he was not distracted by stories about his dressing-room scuffle with Simon Katich.
He waited for bad balls to dispatch his seven boundaries, which included a classy pull off Southee and a few flicks off his pads. Mostly Clarke knocked the ball around into gaps and he picked up 48 singles, running well with Hussey. But the tight bowling meant the pair could not dominate with the bat and when they took the batting Powerplay from the 35th over it brought them only 33 runs.
Hussey's 75 from 94 balls featured four fours and it was a typically careful affair that highlighted his importance in a young side. But in a team missing its captain and best batsman, the efforts of the two remaining leaders were simply not enough to keep Clarke's unbeaten record as Australian captain alive. They head into Sunday's match in Sydney again without Ponting and in serious danger of handing back the Chappell-Hadlee Trophy.
Brydon Coverdale is a staff writer at Cricinfo