After a fast start, Australia floundered in their T20 series opener against New Zealand, falling 53 runs short in their chase in Christchurch. Devon Conway was the hero for the hosts, posting an unbeaten 99 off 59 balls, narrowly missing the chance for a last-ball hundred as New Zealand posted 184-5.
In reply, the visitors’ top order crumbled as Australia limped to 131 all out, starting the five-game series with a dispiriting loss. Out-of-form skipper Aaron Finch (1), first-gamer Josh Philippe (2), Matthew Wade (12) and Glenn Maxwell (1) were all out caught in the opening five overs.
Veteran fast bowlers Trent Boult (2-22) and Tim Southee (2-10) ran a wrecking ball through Australia, leaving them at 19-4. Mitch Marsh (45) posted his top T20 score and Ashton Agar (23) found some success but there was no making up lost ground. Ish Sodhi cleaned up as Australia tried to make a fist of it, finishing with 4-28.
Compounding the defeat was the feeling that it could have been so different for Australia. Finch’s side showed no signs of post-quarantine sluggishness, winning the toss and pegging New Zealand to 19-3 early. Daniel Sams claimed Martin Guptill and Kane Williamson on just his third T20 international outing, with Jhye Richardson bowling opener Tim Seifert.
Enter Conway, and exit Australia’s hopes. The South-Africa born batsman steadied the ship, continuing fine domestic form by becoming the first Kiwi to score five straight T20 half-centuries. He then took off, sharing a 74-run stand with Glenn Phillips (30) and a quickfire 47-run partnership with Jimmy Neesham (26).
Conway enjoyed a couple of reprieves, dropped by Marcus Stoinis on the boundary before Wade missed the chance to run him out. The 29-year-old finished the innings with a series of slogs, putting the 9,093-strong crowd on their feet for the last ball only to finish one short of a century.
The match was the first of Australia’s T20 tour of New Zealand, and a major occasion in Christchurch. On Monday, the city marked 10 years since the devastating 2011 earthquake which killed 185 people. A minute’s silence was held before the game, the first under lights at the newly developed Hagley Oval.
The series now moves to Dunedin’s University of Otago Oval for a clash on Thursday afternoon.