Ricky Ponting bludgeoned the New Zealand attack for the second time in the match as Australia romped to victory
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Australia can think safely of the Ashes after they survived a nervous fright to seal a 2-0 series victory under Eden Park's floodlights at Auckland. The thrilling day swung both ways until Ricky Ponting silenced the on-field complaints about the declining conditions by blasting an unbeaten 82 in the nine-wicket win.
The weather forecast predicted showers for tomorrow, but Ponting avoided a restless night as he finished the match in a mad flurry of beautiful boundaries, scoring his last 36 runs off 21 balls. New Zealand deserved to be praised for their courageous fightback from 23 for 4 to a lead of 163, but the way they drew out the over-rate was juvenile, and by the scheduled close they were about 10 overs behind.
Ponting and Langer adopted a positive approach in an effort to knock off the runs at six an over, but there were plenty of disruptions with changes of ball, offers of light, an extended drinks break and drizzle. Langer opened the chase with a first-ball hook and the vibe was upbeat throughout the 29.3 overs. Quick to punish deliveries through cover, Langer outlasted his partner after Matthew Hayden gave up his wicket when he took on Daniel Vettori in a ridiculous single. It was the only setback.
In the first innings Ponting blazed when everybody before him blocked, and he traded watchful defence for more exquisite boundaries as he chipped down the total. New Zealand wanted quick wickets once Hayden departed but Ponting wasn't feeling vulnerable. One pull off the front foot when visibility was at its worst was immaculate, and there were more fulfilling swings to midwicket and cover.
Ponting brought up his half-century with a delightful horizontal flick to square leg and he repeated it off James Franklin's next ball. Chris Martin was then powered for a straight six by Ponting, who followed Langer's fifty with two crunching straight boundaries. "We've set very high standards over a long time and I think we've lived up to those after the last couple of weeks," Ponting said.
Fleming called the result a "mauling" after Vettori carried on the impressive work of Nathan Astle to recover from the desperate situation of the first hour. The game could have been over by lunch when Fleming drove hard and straight at Jason Gillespie, who threw out a glue-filled hand at thigh height for a spectacular catch. Gillespie moved alongside Richie Benaud's 248 wickets and Fleming left with a series to forget.
Stephen Fleming's miserable run continued as he fell to a stunning catch by Jason Gillespie
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Glenn McGrath, who had reduced New Zealand to 11 for 2 yesterday, hit Hamish Marshall a painful blow on the right elbow and in his next over delivered a fine off-cutter that was inside-edged to Adam Gilchrist, the Man of the Series. New Zealand were 23 for 4 and trailing by 68. Astle and Lou Vincent blasted out of the despair and into a lead that grew to 62 in an exciting and eventful opening session. The sudden change of action was brutal and in 76 balls they thrashed 70. Australia started to get rattled.
Just as New Zealand moved in front the mood changed with Vincent's run-out from a decision taking aggression to a fatal level. It was a similar misjudgement to Hayden's, and Michael Clarke punished him. Warne, welcomed by a Vincent six over mid-off that landed in the first tier, added the second wicket in five balls with Brendon McCullum, his 100th New Zealand victim, and Australia swung back.
The Astle-Vettori partnership, which started two runs ahead, added 81 and the noise around the sparse stadium improved with the total. Vettori was industrious while Astle played powerful slashes and drives to form a satisfying combination. Astle departed for 69 while Vettori gave himself an 84-ball half-century and helped the target go well past 100.
Warne picked up Vettori for his fourth wicket, but McGrath's catch ended his tilt at sealing his 500th scalp today. He will have to wait for the first Test at Lord's in July and will run in on 499 after bowling Paul Wiseman to close the innings. Bring on the Ashes.
Fleming c&b Gillespie 3 (15 for 3)
A stunning one-handed reflex take in his follow-through from a well-hit drive.
H Marshall c Gilchrist b McGrath 7 (23 for 4)
Great off-cutter that clipped inside edge and Gilchrist dived to his left for a skillful take.
Vincent run-out 40 (93 for 5)
Hit straight to Clarke at point, took off for a single, tried to stop and gave up before a stump was knocked from the ground.
McCullum lbw b Warne 0 (93 for 6)
A long way forward sweeping, but hit on the half-volley.
Astle c Katich b Warne 69 (174 for 7)
Drifted in, brushed his edge, bounced off front pad and Katich took a diving catch at short leg.
Franklin c Ponting b Warne 23 (220 for 8)
Good low grab at silly point from pad-bat push.
Vettori c McGrath b Warne 65 (227 for 9)
Chasing big boundaries, he holed out to deep mid-off, where McGrath took the catch and ended his chance to reach 500 wickets today.
Wiseman b McGrath 23 (254)
Charged and missed a yorker.
Hayden run-out 9 (18 for 1)
Drove straight of Vettori at mid-off and was about three metres short of his ground when the direct hit arrived.