Ice-cool Williamson wins New Zealand a thriller
New Zealand 152 for 9 (McCullum 50, Williamson 45*, Starc 6-28) beat Australia 151 (Haddin 43, Boult 5-27, Southee 2-65, Vettori 2-41) by one wicket
Scorecard and ball-by-ball details
This was the match the 2015 World Cup was crying out for, a competitive contest between two major sides, and the co-hosts played out a thriller in front of a packed and partisan Auckland crowd. The game had everything: perfect weather, a full house, a flurry of early boundaries followed by eye-popping collapses, sensational swing bowling, clever spin bowling, and perhaps the calmest batsman in the world hitting one of the fastest bowlers in the world for a straight six to seal a one-wicket victory for New Zealand. When Kane Williamson put Pat Cummins back over his head to win the match, and the Chappell-Hadlee Trophy with it, more than 40,000 stomachs unknotted at Eden Park, and even this most staid of cricketers allowed himself a fist-pump to celebrate.
It shouldn't have been that hard. Never in Australia's history had they been dismissed in an ODI by a team using only three bowlers. It nearly happened at Eden Park, where - backed by a relentlessly attacking captain - Daniel Vettori, Trent Boult and Tim Southee had Australia at 128 for 9 in 27 overs before Brendon McCullum turned to a fourth bowler to finish the job. Southee brought aggression - if sometimes uncontrolled - at the top, Vettori provided calm when New Zealand could have unraveled, and Boult smashed through the middle and lower order. Australia were shot out in 32.2 overs and New Zealand were going to bat before the scheduled dinner break once again.
McCullum, like he did after New Zealand had dismissed England in 33.2 overs in Wellington, went ballistic. In a blur of boundaries against the speed of Mitchell Johnson and Mitchell Starc, he got to his half-century at a strike-rate of more than 200 - despite a severe blow to the arm - before he fell off his 24th delivery. Nothing is easily achieved against Australia, though, and Starc bowled Ross Taylor and Grant Elliott off successive deliveries either side of the break; New Zealand had lost three wickets for one run and were 79 for 4 in the ninth over.
Much like Vettori was with the ball, Williamson was the soothing balm New Zealand needed with the bat. Had it not been for him, they would have been lost. Williamson was steady while Corey Anderson was harried by Starc during their 52-run stand that took New Zealand within 21 runs of their fourth win in four games this World Cup. Williamson would be tested more before the end.
Anderson slogged Glenn Maxwell and holed out to mid-on, Luke Ronchi managed to put one in the stands before being bounced out by Starc, and Vettori chipped a full toss from Cummins straight to mid-on. Three wickets had fallen in successive overs and New Zealand were 145 for 7, needing only seven more to win.
Williamson made perhaps his only mistake shortly afterwards. Off the second ball of the 23rd over, he pushed a single to mid-on and gave Starc, whose radar was so perfectly tuned, a crack at the tail. Starc sent down two searing yorkers and bowled Adam Milne and Southee. New Zealand were 146 for 9, with Starc on a hat-trick to win it for Australia and Williamson stranded at the wrong end. Boult, however, defended and left the last two Starc deliveries.
With six runs to get and no wickets remaining, Williamson now had the strike against Cummins. So well did he know his timing that he began to celebrate before the ball had cleared the boundary.
For much of the day, until New Zealand collapsed, the crowd had got stuck into Australia because the week leading up to the game had drummed up excitement levels in Auckland. Most of the build-up had centered around the Australian team slightly playing down New Zealand's demolition of England, and the fans that packed Eden Park were bristling from the onset. As loudly as they cheered on New Zealand at every chance, they booed Australia. And not just David Warner, who sometimes asks for it, but even Michael Clarke, who had spoken so genially about McCullum's team and country on the eve of the game. They booed incoming batsmen, and send-offs were severe. It was stark contrast to how their team plays its cricket. If New Zealand make it to the MCG on March 29, they should expect retribution.
The match had a high-octane start. Both teams looked nervous. Southee's first ball was wide outside off stump and yet Aaron Finch chased after it wildly. Southee was then leg-glanced for four and he ended the opening over with a bouncer that sailed over wicketkeeper Ronchi for four byes. Warner top-edged a pull off Boult over third man for six, and Finch deposited Southee into the stands beyond long-on. Though Southee bowled Finch next ball, Australia, in their aggressive gambit to control the game, had racked up 47 in 4.3 overs.
To bring calm, McCullum turned to Vettori in the seventh over and he was iceman to their new-ball mavericks. Bowling with a slip and leg slip inside the fielding restrictions, Vettori varied pace and flight to restrain Australia. Before this game he had conceded only two boundaries in 25.2 overs in this World Cup. Despite the tiny dimensions of Eden Park, Vettori got hit for only two more during a spell of 10-0-41-2.
Australia's second-wicket partnership had just reached 50, but with momentum flagging Shane Watson heaved Vettori towards one of the longer short boundaries to be caught by Southee at deep square leg off the last ball of the 13th over. McCullum brought back Southee from a different end and he immediately pinned Warner lbw. The crowed booed when Warner reviewed the decision and they went berserk when it was unsuccessful. Two wickets of successive balls that left Australia 80 for 3 was New Zealand's opening, and they broke the door down.
Vettori had Australia's future captain Steven Smith caught behind, and the returning current captain Clarke was held by Williamson at short cover off Boult. It was reward for McCullum who had placed two slips and two catchers at cover for Clarke as soon as he came to bat and persisted with them.
It was just before Clarke's dismissal, however, that Boult had ripped out the middle order. Returning for his second spell in the 18th over, he had both Maxwell and Mitchell Marsh playing on, leaving Australia 97 for 6. Clarke's dismissal reduced them to 104 for 7 in the 20th over. Boult then ran through his left-arm counterparts Johnson and Starc in a hurry, and Australia got as far as 151 only because Cummins hung around with Brad Haddin for a last-wicket stand of 45.
A target of 152 would have been a breeze against most teams, but not Australia. Though Williamson dragged New Zealand to victory in the most tense of finishes, there remained little to split the two hosts deservedly billed as World Cup favourites.
George Binoy is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo