Sunday, June 29, 2008

New Zealand back on the Cricket Map

The Kiwis ended the sultry summer on a high with a streak of victories to end the NATWEST Series of 5 ODIs, winning it 3-1. Should’ve been 4-1, had it not been for Collingwood’s wiliness and umpires’ delay in calling it a day in the 2nd ODI, just one over short of the Duckworth –Lewis requirement in an already shortened match.

The first one dayer was won by England in thumping fashion, defeating NZ by a huge margin of runs, having scored excess of 300 batting first. More was talked about the “switch hit” of Kevin Pietersen’s switch hit, an overblown story.

The second one dayer (Edgebaston, Birmingham) made people to wait till eternity to see the players on the field and then, the rain was in again, but not for long, and play resumed. The “not-so-high” target of 160 in 23 overs, given that T20 is more popular now, was given a good chase by McCullum, assisted by How, Taylor and later by Styris. But the umpires stopped the play as rain started lashing, just one more over to be bowled to get a result by Duckworth-Lewis. And the Kiwis were needing just 7 runs off that over (if no wicket falls). Yes, they were unhappy.

Now, the 3rd ODI, Bristol, and this was an excellent game. Oh boy! I loved it so much! With less than 50 on the board, the half the Kiwi side was already back in the pavilion, and as the 40th over approached, the side was 7-down for not more than 120. Grant Elliot was cautious till now and was holding fort on one end and he needed a partner to build a decet score. Kyle Mills was the answer. The under-rated lower order all-rounder had a point or two to make with the bat this time. Elliot’s half century and Mills’ 47 put up modest 182 on a seaming and swinging Bristol. England, with confidence of the series lead and the test victory behind their back, came in to face the NZ pace battery. Mills toyed with the ball too, and got rid of opener Wright and the “he was the one who did….” KP. Gillespy was merciless at the other end. Bell and Bopara started to play cautiously, something that would surely take them home, but one string of madness broke the English top order. Southee, the wrecker-in-chief. Oh boy o’ boy! The boy was breathing fire. Four wickets between him and Elliot when England put on just 2 runs, now 64-6, captain Paul in with Swann. Target still in sight, both began a slow approach, but within the limits. Pendulum was swinging England’s way when Styris got rid of Swann, and half an hour later, Collingwood was consumed by Southee. It was near run a ball contest, where a boundary could’ve seen happier faces in English dressing room, but, the Kiwis wasted no time, and won the match by 23 runs, more than 20 balls to spare.
How often do you get such a beautiful pitch? Take a bow, curator!

The 4th ODI, The Oval, London. Phew! Hot match! A good score of 245 was put on by the English batsmen, easily defendable by the English bowlers in the cir home conditions. The big hitters McCullum and Taylor out early, England seemed favourites. But, How and Styris steadied the Kiwi ship, and later, the comeback man, Oram played his part. With all these three out, the Kiwi hopes rested on their saviours last time ‘round, Elliot and Mills. And, they did put on a good show, until the drama happened. Sidebottom was to bowl to Elliot. Elliot tried to tuck the ball to the off side, but, didn’t see where the ball was (apparently edged it onto himself and the ball fell near him, in front of the crease). He responded to a confident call for a run from Mills and set off for the on-striker’s end, but collided into Sidebottom, whom Elliot hadn’t spotted. Both fell down, the ball between them. Elliot, in half a mind to run back to the crease, got up and limped but, Ian Bell threw the ball to KP who removed the bails before Elliot could even know what happened. The Umpires wanted Collingwood to think over twice on deciding to appeal or not. Elliot was nursing his bruise, but Captain ‘Wood appealed and sent him off, very un-sportive!!! But Mills carried on the bandwagon, though wickets kept falling at the other end. It was 12 needed from 2 overs, Mills facing Collingwood, and he sent one packing six over mid-wicket which got lost in the crowd. Mills sure had eyes full of revenge. It was 3 needed from the last over, Luke Wright to be England’s hero or zero. First ball, Mills managed a single. This was what England could’ve best hoped for, having a go at Gillespie would be easier than bowling to Mills. Four dot ball followed, Gillespie didn’t connect most of them. Now, the crowd was on its feet, quiet, biting nails, spilling beer, covering eyes, praying, and Collingwood seemed to be taking the time of his life to set the field…(hey, if you take that long to pull your fine leg in, send him to mid wicket and ultimately send him back to fine leg again, then you deserve that four match ban!!! – ie, 5th ODI vs Kiwi, at T20, and 2 against Protease). So, the last ball, Gillespie managed a touch to point, and they ran, Gillespie, well short of crease,….wasn’t run out!!! Hey, the bowler wasn’t covering up!!! So, bonus, Mills came back for overthrows. Kiwi win by one wicket, on the last ball. IPL final? Naaah… This match was a better thriller! And yeah, the rivalry between the teams was just getting bigger. Skipper Vettori didn’t even shake hands with Collingwood.

Fifth ODI, Mecca of Cricket, The Lord’s, London.
It was all down to this match for Kiwis to stamp authority over England. After a slow start, the Kiwis put on 266-5, thanks to stalwarts Styris who had a well paced, unbeaten 87 and Oram who made a quick 52. Elliot helped again towards the end. Now, it was up to Bell and Cook (in for the banned Collingwood) to give their side a good start. They did start off well, with a good run rate too. But, Gillespie took care of Bell’s long stay and Southee, with his very first over got rid of Cook. Captain for the day, KP, wanted to stay there, and help the team build its innings again. But, he left, trying to increasing the rate. Bopara fell to Vettori soon. With no Collingwood out there, Owais Shah had to do things all by himself. Bot Ambrose and Luke fell for cheap scores. Then on, it was easy for Kiwis to get rid of the batsmen. Southee came back to end the stylish knock of 69 by Owais, which sadly went in vain.
The Kiwis won the Natwest Series 3-1, yes, frustrated that it wasn’t 4-1, but a comprehensive series win, looking back at the dismal form in tests. Youngster, Tim Southee was adjudged the Man-of-the-Series.

The series had it all. Superb pitches, rain, pain, controversies, swing, spin, and, errrr…duh…switch hit! Now, England has got to regroup itself in time to face the South African team. Lets see how things go.

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