Death, taxes and rain ruining games of cricket in England are the three guarantees in life. However Australia will be thanking the weather gods, cricket gods or whichever deity they pray to for the inclement weather intervening in Birmingham on Friday afternoon.
At 53/3 off nine overs chasing 235 in 33, Australia were staring down the barrel of defeat in their opening encounter of the 2017 Champions Trophy against trans-Tasman rivals New Zealand. In a short tournament where each side only plays three group matches, there is little margin for error, and Australia could not afford to start the tournament slowly. Prior to the tournament the Aussies were considered one of the favourites for the title, thanks largely to their impressive arsenal of fast bowlers. But their quick guns failed to fire early in the piece against the Black Caps. Australia started the match flatter than the Edgbaston surface which despite some moisture appeared full of runs, and New Zealand took full advantage.
Josh Hazlewood, Mitchell Starc and Pat Cummins, all fast and skilful, were rather generous with their offerings of loose deliveries to New Zealand openers Martin Guptill and Luke Ronchi – offerings the Kiwi pair were more than happy to accept. Cummins in particular was very disappointing and finished with the expensive figures of 1/67 off nine overs. While Cummins pace was up above 90mph during his spells, and there is no doubt about his ability, he was well below his lofty standards. Cummins’ lack of control allowed Ronchi and Guptill to use his pace, particularly when he dropped short and wide, which he did with a regularity that would have disappointed his captain.
New Zealand’s barnstorming progress was only halted by Australia’s less heralded members of the seam attack – John Hastings and Moises Henriques. While the pair don’t possess the pace of their colleagues it was their clever changes of pace that helped reign in New Zealand’s scoring rate before Hazlewood and Starc raised their game at the death.
After the game’s first rain delay the Black Caps innings was reduced to 46 overs, but with Ronchi blazing a brilliant 65 off just 43 balls and Kane Williamson batting fluently they seemed on track for around 320. It was going to take something special to stop the Kiwis piling on a mammoth total, enter Hazlewood. Along with his new ball partner Starc, Hazlewood turned his day around with a fantastic spell of death bowling which restricted New Zealand to 291 all out despite Williamson’s brillant 100 off 97 deliveries.
While it is Starc who gets all the plaudits, Hazlewood is the real leader of this Australian attack in both Test and ODI cricket and his class came to the fore late in the Kiwis innings. The New South Welshman had been just as guilty as his teammates for the poor start, but he redeemed himself with a quality spell of death bowling that enabled his side to get back into the match.
Generally Hazlewood very rarely errs in line and length while still bowling at a lively pace, and despite straying from his usual high standards to begin with it seemed he had summed up the conditions at Edgbaston well from the outset.
There was little swing to be found for Australia’s bowlers with the new ball, despite the grey skies and moisture in the pitch. Hazlewood, recognising the lack of swing could make it easy for the New Zealand batsmen to line them up, resorted to cross seam deliveries very early in a bid to get some assistance from the surface. His tactic proved successful as a back of a length delivery held up and bounced a little more to claim the leading edge of Guptill’s bat for Australia’s first wicket. Hazlewood’s use of a hard length and scrambled seam was even more prosperous at the death as he added five more wickets to his tally, including three in the final over to round out New Zealand’s innings and finish with impressive figures of 6/52 from nine overs.
The late collapse by New Zealand meant momentum and confidence was with the Australians heading into the break, before further rain delayed the start of Australia’s innings. The same lethargy that was apparent in the field early then reared its ugly head again when David Warner and Aaron Finch came out to bat. While Warner started in typical aggressive fashion, Finch struggled for timing and his sluggish start put further pressure on Warner – leading to the left-hander’s audacious attempt to hit Trent Boult from Birmingham to London and leading to his dismissal.
Finch (eight off 18) was put out of his misery soon after when he chipped an innocuous Adam Milne delivery straight to mid-wicket. Captain Smith swiftly set about rebuilding the innings with a shaky looking Moises Henriques before the all-rounder too chipped a delivery in the air, this time offering a simple return catch to the fired up and pacy Milne.
New Zealand were threatening to expose Australia’s middle order, one that is full of powerful hitters but potentially lacking the ability to negotiate a sticky situation like the one that was brewing at Edgbaston. Fortunately for an unusually shoddy Australian team the English summer weather intervened and saved them from probable defeat. Smith and his men escape their first match with a point and will need to improve against Bangladesh.
In such a short tournament, where every game is crucial, the Australians can’t afford to be this flat at the start of a match again otherwise it could be all over before they know it.
Updated Date: Jun 03, 2017 16:25 PM