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Australia v New Zealand, 1st semi-final, Champions Trophy

Going full throttle

The Verdict by Peter English

November 1, 2006

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'Glenn McGrath knows about long roads to recovery; this effort shows he's very near peak fitness © Getty Images
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On a lifeless pitch this could have been a fair contest. Instead it offered early bowling fun and for a while threatened to be the type of slaughter usually saved for first-round World Cup mismatches. Given New Zealand's desire to step up whenever Ricky Ponting's men arrive, it was a meek surrender of the top order in a showpiece match as Australia reached their first Champions Trophy final.

In conditions New Zealand batsmen should have been used to - the ball darted and swung in the night air - they were unable to cope against an intimidating line-up. Shane Bond and the excellent Kyle Mills were first to exert their influence on a surface that was helpful but not unplayable. However, they were let down by their batsmen and, after 14.2 overs of the second innings, the result was being called. Six wickets had gone for 35 and Glenn McGrath's swagger was back.

McGrath knows about long roads to recovery and this effort is now showing growing signs of being a full one. Starting the tournament ambling, he added punch against India and tonight moved into knockout mode. Lou Vincent was forced into an edge, Hamish Marshall was strangled by a wide ball and Peter Fulton made an awful misjudgment when he shouldered arms to an offcutter that had eyes for the stumps.

More encouragement came for Australia when McGrath delivered his ten overs in a row, signing off on his 3 for 22 with a pin-point yorker dug out by Daniel Vettori. He deserved to smile and will look to hold another major trophy in the final at Mumbai on Sunday. As McGrath bounced, Brett Lee rushed and Nathan Bracken delivered a clever four balls to Stephen Fleming.

The Australians, who shelved cross-batted extravagance, succeeded as they posted 240 and Fleming attempted a similar approach until he left three outswingers from Bracken. He couldn't ignore a fourth and the late movement collected an edge on the way to Ponting at second slip. It was the ideal follow-up to Lee's early ruffling and McGrath's stifling.

Mills and Bond had also worked well in combination, with the support out-doing the headline act. Bond was fast and unpredictable while Mills waited for Australian impatience and was rewarded with 4 for 38. Having knocked over Shane Watson and Adam Gilchrist in his second over, Mills gave New Zealand hope of an upset. However, Australia's early struggles were barely a blip compared to the damage of the second innings.

Ponting and Andrew Symonds showed the pitch could be conquered in considered half-centuries while Jacob Oram and Vettori, who scored 79, also wrestled some momentum from the bowlers. The New Zealanders scurried for a 103-run partnership as the ball softened and the dew arrived to delay confirmation of the result. Fleming's side leaves the tournament in disappointing fashion while Australia have improved with each match. They have four days before the final as they plan to add their opening Champions Trophy to an already heavy collection.

Peter English is the Australasian editor of Cricinfo

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