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Clinical display by Aussies

By Vijay Lokapally

LONDON, SEPT. 16. Precision marked Australia's performance at The Oval as New Zealand experienced rapid deterioration in form and application, and hurtled towards a comprehensive seven-wicket defeat in the group decider of the Champions Trophy.

If anything, the Kiwis cold have made an effort to give this tournament its first quality encounter but all one witnessed was an indifferent approach by a bunch that was punch on its past success. Having set a target of 199, New Zealand lacked the will to stop an opposition that has won the last six matches between them.

New Zealand arrived in England with a reputation to defend — ranked number three in the World — but it proved no better than any of those minnows who have been subjected to scathing criticism for having deprived the tournament of its lustre in the first week. Stephen Fleming and his men, struggling at 89 for six at one stage, only added to the mediocrity, succumbing to the combined excellence of Glenn McGrath and Michael Kasprowicz.

Australia, the team tipped by most to win the title, took its appointed place in the semifinals, in keeping with its reputation. After the bowlers did their job, the Aussie batsmen accomplished the mission in a grand style with Damien Martyn and Andrew Symonds establishing complete dominance over the New Zealand attack in an impressive fashion.

Martyn showed exemplary skills to pick gaps and his range of shots meant the bowlers remained under constant pressure. He played the role of a pivot to the hilt. But Symonds believed in decimating the attack and came up with an astounding assault, beating the field with shots of brute power. The half century by Symonds was easily the high point of the match as he toyed with the bowling to confirm his reputation of being one of the most exciting sights on a cricket field today.

The Kiwis, put in, invited self-destruction after a flattering start. The pitch was slightly damp, quite understandable under the given conditions, but it was not venomous. Horrendous shot selection and a weak mindset saw the Kiwis leave their supporters red-faced in this clash that was expected to produce a thriller.

Cricket could not have asked for a better setting. The atmosphere was electric when Glenn McGrath commenced his spell. The staccato strokeplay by Nathan Astle and Stephen Fleming seemed to give the spectators a sneak preview of what lay in store but it was illusionary, after all.

Wily McGrath

The Aussies recovered in style, just to remind everyone that their dominance was not going to be threatened by a minor surge in the opposition ranks. The wily McGrath, having suffered a blistering assault in his first four overs, emerged from the trenches to inflict wounds that crippled the New Zealand camp.

Accuracy, coupled with deceptive pace, has been McGrath's forte and he employed his skills in a lethal manner. Astle was stifled at the crease with a ball that whipped in and New Zealand had suffered its first blow. A sweet revenge for the bowler who had been pulled the preceding ball.

McGrath, by now, had regained his rhythm and discovered hi favourite line. The batsman at the crease was fresh and he knew this was the best time to strike. Hamish Marshall was treated to a McGrath special, again the ball curling in. This time there was a touch of uncertainty in the height the ball gained as it hit the batsman on the pad.

Scott Styris' actions suggested a sense of unwise urgency. He was keen to play his shots but chose the wrong bowler. McGrath surprised him with pace and bounce even if the ball was lacking in direction but Styris obliged with a poor shot.

There were signs of extravagance in strokeplay when Fleming, looking very good, cracked the ball around. His backfoot play was working excellently and the drives found the gaps perfectly. Fleming's timing too indicated his staggering confidence, which, however, soon enticed him into a fatal misdemeanour. The ball stood up on him and his intended pull fell in an arc at mid-on where Jason Gillespie flung himself forward to complete a superb catch.

McCullum to the rescue

The Kiwis plunged to greater depths when Jacob Oram too played in indiscreet shot, misreading the slower one, to tap it back to the bowler. The arrival of Chris Cairns sent a cheer through the New Zealand supporters but he became a first-ball victim of Kasprowicz's well-deceived leg-cutter. Chris Harris and McCullum showed the way for Daniel Vettori to chip in handsomely late in the order. But the credit lay with McCullum, who did not lose his momentum despite the loss of a confident Harris at a wrong time. Harris, who was responsible for Craig McMillan's run out, perished to a low return catch that gave Darren Lehmann his only wicket but deprived New Zealand of a resurgence that could put Australia under pressure.

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