Australia 259 for 8 (Clarke 70, Bevan 50, Tuffey 4-30) beat New Zealand 258 for 9 (Oram 81, McCullum 51, Williams 5-53) by 2 wickets with one ball to spare
When New Zealand lost four wickets in next to no time in the morning, Australia could have been forgiven for expecting a repeat of Faridabad, where the same batting crumbled from a similar position. Instead, thanks to Jacob Oram and Daryl Tuffey, Pune gave its cricket fans a much more climactic game, and although Andrew Symonds slammed Australia home by two wickets, New Zealand's fielding lent more than a helping hand towards that result.
Set 259 for victory, Australia needed four off the final over, and after two of those runs had been notched up, Brendon McCullum dropped Brad Williams's wild slash. Symonds clouted the very next ball to Lou Vincent at short midwicket, and even as that was grassed, the batsmen ran the single needed. Had they been taken, either of those chances could have potentially reversed the result of this game and may even affect New Zealand's chances of making the TVS Cup final.
Vincent had already dropped Symonds once at short extra cover, and his wicket at that time would have dented Australia's hopes severely. Chasemeister Michael Bevan departed shortly afterwards for 50 (204 for 6), and it was Symonds who nudged Australia steadily towards 259, taking 10 runs off the last two balls of the penultimate over and keeping a cool head throughout.
Symonds's final assault built upon a 108-run fifth-wicket partnership between Bevan and Michael Clarke (70), who came together with Australia in some distress. Daryl Tuffey had Adam Gilchrist caught at mid-off (34 for 1), Matthew Hayden caught at slip (40 for 2) and Damien Martyn bowled off an inside edge (54 for 3). Scott Styris then bowled Ricky Ponting, and at four wickets down for 54, some calm batting was urgently needed.
Bevan had provided that so many times in the past that it was now almost second nature, but Clarke's supply of it was a revelation. Displaying excellent hand-eye coordination and some canny shot selection, Clarke rotated strike easily, and displayed an array of strokes and a willingness to improvise. He used his feet regularly to Daniel Vettori, once coming down the pitch and dragging him from outside off for a mighty six over midwicket. At the other end, Bevan batted away with minimum fuss; even his six off Chris Harris over long-off bore the stamp of business rather than pleasure.
After Clarke inside-edged Tuffey onto his stumps (173 for 5) and Bevan, uncharacteristically, made an error of judgement during the final phase of a chase by top-edging a pull, Symonds stuck it out relentlessly. Ian Harvey and Andy Bichel played their part by sticking to a run-a-ball formula.
Earlier Brad Williams, having found at Faridabad a script that pleased him, took ball in hand with the sole purpose of creating a sequel. Consistently moving the ball either way in his opening spell, Williams trapped both Chris Nevin and Scott Styris lbw by getting some nip into the batsmen. In between, he induced Lou Vincent to jab an outswinger to slip, and when he bowled Craig McMillan through the gate (21 for 4), New Zealand had their backs to the wall.
After Bichel came into the attack, however, the pressure eased. The prodigious movement, which had so far worked against New Zealand, now started to contribute to the number of extras, and Cairns and Stephen Fleming had just started to mount a recovery when Bichel snaffled Cairns with the 10th ball of an over. After having delivered three wides and a no ball, Bichel got one to move into Cairns and trap him lbw (68 for 5).
Fleming went into Test-match mode after that. He survived a difficult caught-and-bowled chance off Harvey, but his shield looked impenetrable until he skied a pull off Symonds to midwicket in a rush of blood (130 for 6).
Harris soon slashed Williams to deep cover (151 for 7), but thereafter followed New Zealand's best partnership - of 68 runs for the eighth wicket. Oram, using his height to good effect by striding forward and covering all swing, thumped bad balls for four and nudged singles otherwise. McCullum was content to turn the strike over repeatedly to Oram. A vicious six off Bichel over midwicket brought up the 200 for New Zealand, but soon after, Oram was struck on the ribs by a full toss that slipped out of Symonds's hand. Although it was entirely accidental, it seemed to shake him up a little. Oram savaged 14 runs off the first five balls of that over, hitting cleanly and powerfully, but he moved to leg for the final ball - a full, straight delivery - and was bowled (219 for 8).
Oram's innings had wrested back the initiative for New Zealand, and McCullum and Vettori intelligently kept the scoreboard ticking over in the final few overs. Perhaps New Zealand could have used a few more slogged fours during that time, but more than anything else, they could have used their normally high levels of fielding, for if any game was lost by dropped catches, this one was.
Samanth Subramanian is sub editor of Wisden Cricinfo.