Ponting century and Hodge 99 seal Australian success
Australia 5 for 291 (Ponting 104, Hodge 99*) beat New Zealand 7 for 290 (Vincent 90, Fulton 60) by five wickets
Scorecard and ball-by-ball details
Ricky Ponting quickly returned Australia's winning habit with a calm century and Brad Hodge sealed his short-term future with an unbeaten 99 as they beat New Zealand by five wickets. Chasing a ground-record target of 291, Australia started slowly before warming up through a two-paced partnership of 154 between Hodge and Ponting that forced New Zealand to fight with England on Tuesday for a spot in the finals.
After missing the 92-run loss on Friday - the first of Australia's summer - Ponting was determined to prevent another defeat and he produced a superb performance against a testing attack. Hodge, who replaced the injured Andrew Symonds, had scores of 0 and 1 in his two previous appearances and arrived to a "pressure cooker" atmosphere, but he walked off his home ground having hit the final runs. "To win a game at the MCG is a dream come true," he said.
Ponting was able to accelerate after any slow patch and he sped with Hodge towards the finish after the asking rate drifted out to eight an over with ten to go. Ponting eased to his fifty from 57 balls, brought up his 22nd ODI hundred from 105 deliveries and finished with 104. He departed trying for a seventh boundary, but Hodge completed the assignment and his only disappointment was missing a century.
Australia were behind when Hodge arrived to replace Michael Clarke at 3 for 112 and he took a long time to feel comfortable in a knock that would help decide his future. In the middle of the second innings, which included Hodge's arrival, Australia went 12 overs without a four until Ponting flicked Scott Styris through midwicket. Neither batsman appeared concerned as they set about lifting their tempos.
Ponting opened with a couple of lofted boundaries but his most important strikes were a pulled four and a delightful straight six in Daniel Vettori's final over to spark the change from consolidating to attacking. Hodge was swept along and was the dominant man as the win was secured in the 49th over.
Hodge was struggling to get more than a single during the early stages of his innings, but shortly after he reached his half-century he was sprinting at more than a run a ball. On his home ground, Hodge was cheered for every run and as his confidence rose the bowlers were punished. He planted James Franklin for a six over mid-on and faced only 86 balls.
Australia also began in a hurry when Adam Gilchrist and Matthew Hayden combined forces in a partnership of 56 in 11 overs, although both fell to shots they would regret. The recovery from 2 for 65 was measured and turned out to be perfect.
It was a swift turnaround for the home side after they had been outplayed for most of the game. Lou Vincent fulfilled his wish to stand up to Australia for the second match in a row and his 90 pushed New Zealand to what felt like a match-winning total. Vincent accused the hosts of being bigger than the game after his 66 in Perth last week and he used the extra motivation to earn his third consecutive half-century.
With Vincent in full flow New Zealand were in control and he forged a 151-run partnership with Peter Fulton on a batsman-friendly pitch. The New Zealand innings finished with a roar, showing off Australia's problems with bowling at the death, as Scott Styris (34), Jacob Oram (15 off nine balls), Brendon McCullum (19 from 14) and James Franklin (13 off five) joined the late rush of 71 in the last seven overs.
It was a fine reward for Vincent's early actions against a side bowling far better at the start than at the end. Vincent was closing on a century when he fell to a searing Tait inswinging yorker that ended his 113-ball innings with New Zealand at a healthy 3 for 188. While Vincent led the attack, he received important support from Fulton's 81-delivery 60 after they escaped a fearsome opening from Tait and Lee.
Tait, who was playing his second game, peaked at 160kph with the fifth ball of his second over while Vincent was hit in the pads by a 157kph delivery. He had a much better afternoon than in Sydney on Friday and gave away only 26 from ten overs, picking up Vincent with his second-last ball.
Tait's display should earn him more action in the finals and Brad Hodge is certain to be with him at the MCG for the first decider on Friday. New Zealand and England have to wait until Tuesday to discover if they will also be there.
Peter English is the Australasian editor of Cricinfo