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Distinctly second-best

The little matter of 314 runs batting first, a blazing century to Matthew Hayden, boundaries as common as singles: a typical Jade Stadium deck, you would think. But just as New Zealand made a Wanderers' belter look like a minefield against India when it mattered most at the 2003 World Cup, their bowling-batting nightmare against Australia today was proof of how far off the No. 1 ODI spot they really are.

Earlier in the season New Zealand's chances of heading off Australia for the right to play in October's ICC Super Series as the world's premier one-day team were talked up. It may have been a long shot on paper, but had that talk been backed by performance it could have been credible. As tough as it may be to accept, though, New Zealand have rarely been in the same ballpark as Australia since.

New Zealanders remember with everlasting satisfaction the near-misses of 2001-02 in the Tests at Brisbane and Perth, and the three consecutive batting-first victories over Australia in the VB Series. If New Zealand had visions of becoming the king of the castle, they have remained the dirty rascal, winning just one of the next 11 ODI encounters.

Much has been made of New Zealand having the highest winning percentage in ODIs last year, but that has not translated into success against Australia this season. First up was a towelling at The Oval during the Champions Trophy, next a great escape at Melbourne before Kyle Mills's after-the-fact quartet of sixes added some respectability to the loss at Sydney. New Zealand then blew a winning position at Wellington ... and now, humiliation at Christchurch.

In November I questioned whether John Bracewell was the astute tactician he was made out to be. That was written in response to New Zealand's woeful Test record under him. After New Zealand surrendered first use of the premier batting track in the country, perhaps that question should extend further.

It is true that New Zealand had won the last four ODIs at Jade Stadium chasing - but, equally, they had won four of five before that setting targets; the only loss came when Australia posted 349 in 2000 when - you guessed it - batting first. Last season Central Districts blasted 354 with first use en route to a crushing victory in the one-day domestic final. Add to that the double-centuries scored by Mathew Sinclair, Yousuf Youhana, Graham Thorpe and Nathan Astle in the last two Tests at Jade Stadium and you could excuse a bowler for coming down with a mysterious Christchurch virus.

Yet when Stephen Fleming won the toss today, winning the match became the job of the New Zealand bowlers. Instead, but not surprisingly, they became lambs to the slaughter. Facing a mammoth total and an equally formidable Australian attack, New Zealand never stood a chance.

The result was 72 for 5 after the misjudged guide of Fleming, the loose swing of Astle, the tentative prod of Sinclair, the too-close-to-cut stroke of Hamish Marshall and the wild swipe of Craig McMillan all found their way into the gloves of Adam Gilchrist as, for the first time in ODIs, a wicketkeeper had caught an entire top five.

In the aftermath some of those individuals are sure to cop criticism for poor technique. That may be justified in isolation, but when a team needs 315 to beat the world champions, playing on a surface with pace and bounce, if non-textbook shots hinder winning, lack of class prevents it. And so it proved today.

Andrew McLean is a presenter of The Cricket Club, New Zealand's only national radio cricket show.