Although an inspired and at times unplayable spell of fast bowling from Brett Lee sealed a comfortable 96-run victory for Australia yesterday in Port Elizabeth, it was another shrewd and resourceful partnership between the two Bs that allowed Ricky Ponting's side to put their wee neighbours from across the Tasman back in their place. For Australia in PE it appears B+B+ a little bit of Lee = V.
The Bs of Michael Bevan and Andy Bichel should be well known to English fans because it was their unbeaten eighth-wicket partnership of 73 at this ground 10 days ago that ultimately knocked England out of the World Cup. And yesterday they were at it again against a New Zealand side who fancied their chances of causing an upset – which is something any Australian defeat would be right now. This loss for the Black Caps means they now have to beat India in their final Super-Six game on Friday to go through to the last four.
The unimaginable seemed a certainty when a magnificent spell of fast bowling from Shane Bond had reduced Australia to 84 for 7. Fleming and Bond are a partnership better known for 007 than skittling Aussies but Stephen and Shane – not Ian and James – were dealing with their enemies in similar style.
For the first half of Australia's innings everything Fleming entertained went right and his astute captaincy was backed up by the skill and hostility of his top gun. In his new ball spell of 3 for 20 Bond's pace and control made short work of the Australian top order. Better was to come for the 27-year-old policeman, however.
Feeling that New Zealand were allowing their good start to slip away Fleming called on his strike bowler to re-enter the attack and he duly obliged by taking 3 for 3 in four overs. In his second over Bond removed Damien Martyn with one that left him before trapping Brad Hogg plum in front next ball. The hat-trick was missed but in his next over he feng shuied Ian Harvey, re-organising his furniture with a beauty.
Going for the kill Fleming bowled Bond out and he finished with figures of 6 for 23, the best by a New Zealander in one-day cricket. That left Australia on 88 for 7 after 29 overs and an early beer appeared on the horizon. Bevan and Bichel had other ideas though and skilfully started the task of attempting to take their side to a competitive score. On a pitch offering help to all bowlers, Australia would have been happy with 160 at that stage.
In a team where showmen and superstars grab the headlines, Bevan and Bichel stand out for the quiet and unglamorous way in which they go about their work. Neither is a pretty cricketer but each knows his limitations and plays within them. Their commitment to the cause of winning games for their country stands out and this is just what they achieved.
Bevan's reputation and record in one-day cricket is outstanding, so match-winning performances like this can be taken for granted. They shouldn't be because this nuggety little left-hander from New South Wales is better at his job than anybody in the world. The tougher the situation, the more he thrives.
With Bond out of the attack and Bevan giving him plenty of advice, Bichel gained in confidence and it was he who became the more positive of the two. Against defensive fields the pair took the easy singles which were on offer and hit the bad ball for four, or six as the case was when a delivery from Andre Adams slipped out of his hand and bounced twice before reaching Bichel. The powerful right-hander gratefully deposited it in the crowd.
With 10 overs remaining Australia were only on 128 but this was the signal for a final onslaught which produced 80 runs. Both men passed 50, Bichel for the first time, before selflessly throwing their wickets away in the pursuit of quick runs. Lee finished the innings off in style by smashing the last two balls from Jacob Oram for six. As New Zealand walked off the ground, there was a sense that they had missed their chance.
This realisation increased when a fired-up Glenn McGrath took three early wickets. Chris Cairns came in, threw the bat and hit McGrath for a huge six but his sortie ended when he edged a drive at Bichel to Lee at third man. Fleming, meanwhile, was playing well and trying to hold things together but following his unfortunate dismissal – strangled down the leg-side – New Zealand capitulated to the pace of Lee, who produced three magnificent deliveries to mop up the tail thanks to a spell of 5 for 8.