There was more to the Australia vs New Zealand tie than just sizzling cricket
Auckland: There was buzz. It was on the flight in to Auckland from Melbourne. It was in the airport with images of Kiwi cricketers staring at you from the walls and ATM screens. It was in the restaurant during breakfast. The city had taken on a festive look with beige shirts and green & gold shuffling in the CBD. Hours before the game, people with face paints and noisemakers streamed in to Eden Park to their seats to watch the resumption of the Trans-Tasman rivalry.
Tim Helm (right) with Kiwi friend Mel and Aussie mate Chris at Eden Park in Auckland on Saturday
The 40,000 in the stands were treated to a nail-biting classic, engineered by some high quality fast bowling from both New Zealand and Australia, both considered tournament favorites by many, in a low scoring thriller. The batsmen -- apart from the serene Kane Williamson who has all the makings of a modern day great -- was a bit of a hit and miss.
Australia choosing to bat first were undone by the brand of cricket they want to play. They have been screaming it from the rooftops for everyone to hear. “Aggressive Cricket”. In a small ground with short straight boundaries on a true pitch, Australians stuck to their script and got off to a rousing start. Once the clamps were put on by the wily Daniel Vettori, Trent Boult put on a terrific display of swing bowling at pace. Australia had no answer. In his second spell, at one point, Boult had figures of 5 for 3. That's positively Ambrose-esque or Walsh-ish. Australians didn't help their own cause by playing injudicious shots at inopportune times and were bundled out for 151.
Tim Helm, Kiwi living in Melbourne, had flown home along with Kiwi friend Mel, and Aussie mate Chris, just for this game. They couldn't have asked for a better first half to the match. “To bowl the Aussies out for 151 was an unbelievable achievement... The fans around us were giggling like children at the implausibility of it all. Against England, maybe, but Australia?” says Tim.
The hated rivals -- on the field only, of course -- has been squelched for a score that definitely wouldn't put their home side's batting depth to the test. Surely?
Tim explained the implausibility of the Aussie comeback. “There must have been 3 or 4 points in this game - like with the Aussies at 100/9, or when McCullum cracked his 50, or when Williamson and Anderson were going strong - where we thought: there is no way we can lose it from here. You wouldn't have backed Australia at 100-to-1 odds.”
Mitchell Starc -- now reprising the role of Boult earlier -- cleaned up the out of form Ross Taylor to leave the match tantalisingly poised at the interval. Another wicket at resumption and Tim's fears were becoming more real with seemingly every passing over. He remembers too many scars as a NZ fan from the Aussies. “But still, any Kiwi cricket fan older than about 10 years old has learnt from bitter experience that the NZ team can break your heart, especially against Australia.”
As Starc appeared to pull a rabbit out of the hat by knocking off the 8th and 9th Kiwi wickets, Boult had to survive two balls before Williamson smashed a straight six off Pat Cummins to wrest the game for New Zealand. Even though it was a tremendous win for NZ, Tim sounded conciliatory at the end of the game and had sympathy for the “hated rivaIs” after making an almost miraculous comeback. “I feel sorry for the Aussie fans today” says Tim, “What's worse than getting bowled out for 150, enduring taunts all day from the Kiwi fans, and watching your team get booted all over the park by McCullum? It's believing for a brief few minutes that you just might witness the most amazing comeback in world cup history... and then watching Williamson blitz a 6 to crush your hopes.”
The 40,000 fans at the ground and the millions that watched on TV would be quite happy they witnessed the humdinger and Tim surely is “glad that [he] took that flight from Melbourne to Auckland.”