New Zealand v/s Australia, Auckland
Result: New Zealand win by 1 wicket
Scores: Australia 151 ALL OUT, NZ 152/9 in 23.1 overs
Cricket is a funny game.
Australia suffered their worst defeat ever in ODIs in terms of balls, with NZ winning the match in less than 25 overs. This margin of loss is humiliating for any team of Australia’s caliber. Bizarrely though, this stat doesn’t tell half the story.
The Kiwis, led by Captain Brendon McCullum—who in my opinion, is the finest captain going around in ODI cricket right now—decided to play the match like a T20 game after bowling Australia out for 151. They did the same against England and Scotland, and though they lost half their team in the process, they took their net run rate to astronomical levels. This wasn’t just a new Lanka ’96 style of cricket, this was McCullum signaling his team’s intentions to be ruthless and absolutely annihilate anybody who showed a weakness against his bowling attack. The batsmen have had it easy, but they’ve also made a right mess of it twice now.
It doesn’t change the fact, however, that New Zealand possess the best opening bowling pair in world cricket in Southee and Boult. Southee destroyed England, and Boult destroyed Australia. They hunt in pairs, quite literally, and have young Milne who bowls at 150 kmph regularly as first-change. They also have Anderson and Vettori to shore up things in the middle, and have bowled 3 of their 4 teams out for less than 155 in their first 4 games. Only Sri Lanka crossed 200, also because they were already playing an ODI series against the Kiwis beforehand on these pitches, and had gotten used to (?) these conditions.
It is a pleasure to watch the New Zealand bowlers run in and make a mockery of international batsmen. It is a refreshing change from the kind of cricket taking place on Australian pitches—where the likes of Gayle, AB de Villiers and Dilshan (all RCB players, notably) have further made cricket a living hell for bowlers.
The pitches and grounds haven’t helped either, and most youngsters will think more than twice before considering bowling as a career option after watching them bat. It has been a World Cup for batting records already, but the top bowlers haven’t been far behind. Two of them belong to New Zealand, and now Mitchell Starc joins their ranks.
Starc bowled possibly the most lethal pace bowling spell in a low-scoring ODI game.
That his team even came close to pulling off an unthinkable upset was down to his unplayable Yorkers. His 6 wickets changed everything, and when Boult came in, he had to face two balls off Starc to get off strike and give it back to Williamson for the final 6 runs. That Australia came close was down to Starc, and that New Zealand didn’t self-destruct in South-African style was down to Kane Williamson’s sane head. Everyone else fell around him, and at one stage, he seemed to have made the fatal mistake of giving his tail the strike with 5 Starc balls to go and 3 wickets left. It’s hard to wonder how any team could lose from there, but New Zealand came mightly close—after once needing 35 runs with 7 wickets in hand, in 38 overs. Mitchell Starc made up for Johnson’s worst day in ODI cricket, after he leaked close to 70 runs off his 6 overs.
McCullum tore into him, but after he departed, captain Clarke made it a riveting Test match—with nothing to lose, and only wickets to aim for.
This was easily the most riveting match of the World Cup, with high-quality cricket, and with batsmen having to rethink their status in the game. One has rarely seen such a low-scoring thriller (England beating South Africa in 2011) in this day and age of quick-scoring IPL cricket.
Two associate matches (Afghanistan v/s Scotland, UAE v/s Ireland) played out thrillers too, but quite frankly, the quality of fielding and bowling left a lot to be desired.
This was what this World Cup needed. Two of the host nations, the best teams by a mile, and two outright favorites to win the Cup—playing out a game that had a bit of all 3 formats (ODIs, T20s and Tests) in it.
World Cup 2015, Welcome. We missed you.