Champions Trophy 2017: Purposeful New Zealand earned moral victory over Australia in rain-hit tie

If there were points handed out for psychological advantage, New Zealand would have deservedly earned them on Friday. In a repeat of their meeting from the previous edition of the Champions Trophy, a Trans-Tasman encounter at Edgbaston was once again the casualty of typical English weather. There were multiple, frustrating interruptions. But when the rains allowed play, the Kiwis found a way to make some points.

Faced with an opposition still someway short of match sharpness, New Zealand attacked with purpose. Under a murky sky, Kane Williamson chose to bat first on a benign-looking pitch. One of his ploys brought instant returns, putting the skipper’s wish into action that his team should begin strongly.

New Zealand earned a moral victory over Australia with a fine performance in a rain-hit encounter. AFP

New Zealand earned a moral victory over Australia with a fine performance in a rain-hit encounter. AFP

It was a surprise to note that the Kiwis had the same top four which had played in the 2013 Champions Trophy encounter. This was made possible by the return of Luke Ronchi as an opener. The wicketkeeper had started his ODI career as an opening batsman but he was moved to the lower order after the previous edition of this tournament.

Four years of intermittent fireworks in the lower echelons was flipped last month when Ronchi found himself opening in the Ireland tri-series. The experiment has continued in England. When he was asked to open against India in the warm-up encounter, Ronchi was surprised. But a 63-ball 66 left him excited about the possibility of him and Guptill launching into bowling attacks.

“Being aggressive is my natural way of batting. If I can take that aggressive approach to the bowlers, if we can get off to a flier, that's brilliant, but obviously there's also chances of me getting out early as well with that sort of approach. Hopefully, if it comes off, it comes off well and if it doesn't, well I guess that's my role and people understand that,” Ronchi said after his knock against India.

Although Guptill left after an impressive start, Ronchi went on to produce 65 in 43 deliveries on Friday. Ever since the retirement of Brendon McCullum, New Zealand has sought a batsman who can provide an explosive start. The Kiwis’s former skipper was in the commentary box on Friday and he would have nodded approvingly at what he saw.

Ronchi particularly exploited Pat Cummins’s pace on a track which aided bounce. Finding that he could trust the conditions, the former Australian international slammed the young pacer for 41 in 17 deliveries (five fours, three sixes). The targeted demolition of Cummins put New Zealand in a place from where it could slowly accumulate runs for a while, following Ronchi’s departure.

This allowed Williamson to bat in a comfortable situation. He nudged the ball around, working his way towards a big score. The skipper’s fifty arrived in 62 balls as he and Ross Taylor sought to lay the platform for a massive score. Williamson, though, has a few mezzanine floors in the edifice of his batting. There are no clear jumps from one level to another. He imperceptibly changes gears, always possessing a big shot in him even when he appears to be taking it easy.

This is why he is New Zealand’s most effective batsman even in limited-overs cricket, even though that man is Guptill in the skipper’s eyes. But before Friday, Williamson’s record against Australia was not worthy of his reputation. His batting average dropped by 10 runs against the world champions and he was yet to score a hundred in Trans-Tasman ODI encounters.

That changed at Edgbaston as Williamson scored his next fifty runs in 34 deliveries. He took a particular liking for John Hastings’s bowling, scoring 42 off his 25 balls – the bowler’s canny variations in pace having little effect on him. Williamson looked set to harm Australia some more in the slog overs but a run out put paid to his hopes.

The rest of the side could not capitalise on the captain’s good work as the last seven wickets fell for 37 runs. Australia must have felt good about its chances at the interval but, after Ronchi and Williamson, there was a third hero in New Zealand’s incomplete tale. Adam Milne does not have the pedigree of Tim Southee or Trent Boult but his rough hewn talent has something to say for itself.

One initially feared a Cummins-like fate for the paceman. Such is Milne’s pace that the ball would have easily come on to the bat, especially if he bowled full. But as every Kiwi bowler showed during their short stint, a smattering of the short stuff needed to be accompanied with variation in pace. Milne did not go full blast, thus reducing some of the advantage the batsmen would have hoped to have. Instead he extracted seam movement while bowling just short of good length.

This created doubts in the mind of the batsmen and Milne walked away with the scalps of Aaron Finch and Moises Henriques in his two overs. It was a shame that we did not get to see more of the New Zealand bowling attack; all the pre-match chatter had been about the Australian quicks but their Kiwi counterparts threatened to steal the show on Friday.

Williamson’s side had its nose ahead when the final rain interruption arrived and the players would have left feeling frustrated. Despite the gains made on Friday, the Kiwis’s job has not gotten easier in a group full of challenges. But as the star turns by Ronchi, Milne and the skipper himself showed, New Zealand will not be found wanting in leaving its mark at another ICC tournament. Now if only the weather would relent.

Updated Date: Jun 03, 2017 11:01 AM

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