Matthew Hayden's third hundred of the competition, the hundredth case of a century in World Cups, was at the heart of a power-packed Australian batting performance during a thumping 215-run triumph against New Zealand in Grenada. Australia, clearly the best team in the tournament, are now two steps away from claiming a hat-trick of World Cups and will travel to St Lucia to take on South Africa in the second semi-final on Wednesday.
It was a dominant, almost vengeful, Australian effort, one which would have helped erase the painful memories of the 3-0 whitewash in the recent Chappell-Hadlee series. Hayden shone the brightest but Ricky Ponting and Shane Watson chipped in with valuable fifties - the first a bustling knock at the top, the second a blitzer at the end. New Zealand were without Shane Bond and Jacob Oram, who were out with injury and illness, but this turned into a nightmare of sorts, ending in their worst defeat in one-day history.
Chasing 349 would have required a special effort, yet it's a challenge one wouldn't have put beyond this New Zealand side after their record-breaking feats in recent times. Peter Fulton cracked an impressive, risk-free half-century but the rest caved in against a well-oiled attack. The two new-ball bowlers, Glenn McGrath and Shaun Tait, broke the back of the New Zealand line-up with a couple of wickets apiece before Brad Hogg, with 4 for 29, polished off the lower order with customary efficiency.
Fulton was the last man to fall, bowled around the legs by Hogg, and he overshadowed his colleagues with his confident strokeplay. The rest couldn't handle the pressure of the mounting rate and collapsed without much of a fight. Tait was lucky with the first breakthrough, when Stephen Fleming was adjudged caught at slip despite the short ball striking his arm, but his speedy straight ball to Craig McMillan was a sucker-punch, pinning the batsman on the back foot and rapping him on the pads.
McGrath struck off his first ball, banging one short and clipping Ross Taylor's edge, before inducing a false stroke off the aggressive Scott Styris. Hogg usually thrives against the lower order and he mopped up four wickets in quick time. The rapidity of the end reinforced the gulf between the two sides today.
Hayden's last appearance against New Zealand, at Hamilton, had yielded a mighty 181 and he carried on in the same vein, equalling the record of Mark Waugh and Sourav Ganguly by scoring his third hundred of the tournament. It took just four deliveries for him to walk down the track and smash the opening bowler Michael Mason through the line. James Franklin, who had dismissed Adam Gilchrist off his first ball, also felt the brunt of Hayden's blade, being cut savagely through point. Hayden even cracked Asad Rauf, one of the umpires, with a ferocious straight blow in an over where he and Ponting clattered 18 off Franklin.
Ponting, walking in at the fall of an early wicket, was away with a slapped four off his first ball and lapped up the short deliveries with glee. It's a mystery why teams continue to bowl short to Ponting early in his innings, especially given his mastery of the pull shot. Fleming juggled his bowling resources around but neither Mark Gillespie nor Mason made any sort of impression, especially with Hayden and Ponting not afraid to take the aerial route. Both brought up their half-centuries in 53 deliveries, pacing their innings efficiently, and set the stage for a massive total.
New Zealand resorted to spin as early as the fifth over, bringing on Jeetan Patel. Daniel Vettori, who was playing his 200th ODI, came on in the tenth over and it was his spell of 0 for 13 in four overs which allowed New Zealand to exert some sort of control.
Patel returned for two more effective stints, ones where he fearlessly flighted the ball in the face of an aggressive line-up, and conjured up some loop to trouble the best. Hayden powered along to his century, utilising the Powerplays by backing away and hammering Vettori for three successive fours in the 28th over. He brought up the landmark with a forceful drive to long-on and celebrated with the exuberance of a teenager.
Clarke and Hussey provided good support but it was Watson who bulldozed Australia close to 350. He put the medium-pacers off by sweeping them cheekily before whistling them down the ground with a clean swing of the bat. The short straight boundaries proved to be too tempting an invitation and Watson scorched four fours and as many sixes in his 32-ball stay.
He ended the innings with a flourish, whacking Franklin for a six down the ground and another over cover, as New Zealand were challenged to complete their most successful chase in ODI history. They didn't get remotely close.