They did it ugly, but they did it. After one of the most incompetent victorious run chases in history, New Zealand somehow connived to turn a stroll to 182 into one of the most nerve-wracking games of cricket I’ve ever seen.
Every time New Zealand eked their way to some small degree of comfort they would connive a way to return momentum to Australia. Or, failing that, the umpires would. Following a hideous decision to give McCullum out LBW (after a thick inside edge) second ball of the chase, Neil Broom was out to a truly unctuous bit of cricket.
He and Taylor (who once again proved our best, most cool-headed batsman) had put on 42 runs for the fifth wicket, and while they weren’t flying along they looked comfortable, and had the target under control. Clarke bowled a nice flighted off spinner which Broom played over the top of, and the bails were dislodged. I was flicking between a certain outrageously good game of tennis and the cricket at the time, so only saw the dismissal live once, but remember thinking Haddin’s gloves were awfully close to the stumps.
I thought little more of it, as their were no replays of the incident, and the commentators remained as jollily silent on the issue as they were on the howler to get rid of McCullum. But this is perhaps as villainous a piece of cricket as has happened between the two nations in a good while.I think it was Mark Taylor who blithely wondered allowed as the game got achingly close in the last over “they have outlawed the underarm, haven’t they?” It was a neat bit of black humour, really, though from an unlikely source, but had we lost this game Haddin (whomust have known what happened, or at least strongly suspected) would be sitting right alongside the Chappell brothers for me.
As it was through a well-timed powerplay, Taylors cool head and a few scrambled runs from Vettori and Patel we made it home. But the thrill of victory souldn’t prevent the proper investigation of that shabby incident.
It was, in the end, an extremely exciting game of cricket highlighted by some crushingly dull stretches. Both sides bowled impeccably, with Tait back to his terrifying best in his first spell (McCullum’s first shot to him was the most bizarre I’ve ever seen him play – it almost justified his dismissal the next ball. Almost) and Bracken was testing and accurate as usual. One element which rankled were the constant ‘conferences’ after every ball slowed the game outrageously, and looked more like a cynical ploy to deprive New Zealand of any momentum. Australian cricket is at its ugliest when the chips are down.
It was during the powerplay that we saw the wounds South Africa inflicted exposed most cruelly, the rising panic, the utter despair on the faces of Johnson and Tait (who looked close to another breakdown after a particularly effortless six from Ross Taylor). They are hurting at the moment, and with Ryder back into the side to balance it a little better (though I’m starting to feel that McCullum needs to drop to six to prevent that middle order – Taylor excepted – stodge) New Zealand has an excellent opportunity to further torture the national psyche of this team in Melbourne on Friday.