A flogging in the dead rubber
What a difference a dead rubber makes. With the pressure relieved on a chilly Wellington day, Australia rested players, Chris Cairns finally middled a few, and Glenn McGrath wasn't at his immaculate best. The result, though, remained just the same as Australia blasted to an emphatic win.
With one-day cricket back at the Basin Reserve, New Zealand's premier cricket venue, for the first time since 1999, overcast weather in Wellington provided the home side with a lucky charm. That fortune was Adam Gilchrist's decision to bowl first, which meant that New Zealand avoided the prospect of a third straight mammoth run-chase. It's mind-boggling to predict what Australia's total of 236 off 34.2 overs might have been had they enjoyed a full complement.
It's certainly drawing a lengthy bow to call the situation lucky, or see some positives for the New Zealand side after they suffered another flogging, but 75 for 0 after 15 overs represented the perfect start for Stephen Fleming and Nathan Astle after opening partnerships of just 13, 4 and 7 in the series so far.
Taking the opportunity for a decent sighter at Brett Lee and Glenn McGrath, the veteran pair showed some vintage touches: Astle's shuffle down the wicket to greet the quick men, and Fleming's calculated pulls and lofts to leg. Lee was hit out of the attack after just four overs, and McGrath got only five. Jason Gillespie fared little better - his first three overs cost 15 - but New Zealand had won the first round and gained some momentum ahead of the Tests.
After a maiden first up, McGrath was strangely out of sorts, giving up five boundaries in his opening spell. He later conceded four overthrows when shying at the stumps off his own bowling. The run-out was on, but it was strange that McGrath, who always ensures that all runs off his bowling are earned, took the chance. He was not alone, though: Lee and Simon Katich also let through overthrows with lazy backing-up work.
For a rare moment in trans-Tasman battles this summer New Zealand held the upper hand on a pitch which held few terrors. Fleming greeted the end of the fielding restrictions with an exquisite six off Gillespie, before holing out in the same over.
The recalled Craig Cumming strode to the middle with the perfect platform, with Astle, New Zealand's most successful ODI batsman, at the other end. From that position of strength, Astle's dismissal at a crucial juncture gave Australia a sniff. As New Zealand were to find out, even the smallest of offerings against the world champions can be critical. With Gilchrist delivering blow after blow against a sub-heavyweight attack, it proved fatal, as New Zealand were subdued within no time.
Andrew McLean is a presenter of The Cricket Club, New Zealand's only national radio cricket show.