AUCKLAND: Kane Williamson held his nerve, ran the last man out with a direct hit and stopped Marcus Stoinis seven runs short of pulling off the most miraculous of Australian chases in an Eden Park ODI.
Stoinis’ unbeaten 146 turned a comfortable New Zealand victory into an utterly thrilling encounter. And yet he was only on the tour because the first-choice allrounder Mitchell Marsh was resting a shoulder problem. Stoinis joined a motley assortment of other second-choice players standing in for the captain Steven Smith, his deputy David Warner and the wicketkeeper Matthew Wade among others, but the innings he conjured was among the finest played for Australia in recent memory, showing equal parts composure and brutality. Stoinis was the first from his country to wallop a century and pick up three or more wickets in the same match.
The visitors had slid as far as 54 for 5 when Stoinis arrived at the crease, and he took his time in the company of James Faulkner before taking the game on with immense courage and power even as Australia’s wickets started to run out. His tally of 11 sixes, most hit straight or in the arc between midwicket and mid-on, was the highest ever in an ODI at Eden Park. As a breakout performance it recalled Andrew Symonds against Pakistan at the 2003 World Cup – Stoinis and Australia will hope so.
The arrival of last man Josh Hazlewood pushed Stoinis into a corner from which he could only attack, and he piled up 54 runs in four overs without the No. 11 ever having to take strike. Ultimately it was the search for a single that ended things, as Williamson struck with an underarm from short mid-on to dismiss Hazlewood when only seven runs were required from 19 balls – a fair measure of how destructively Stoinis had played.
Memorable runs followed up a fine spell with the ball from Stoinis, who bowled his 10 overs straight through the middle of the innings as the Australians held New Zealand to a manageable 286. While numerous chances went down, 29 extras conceded, and a Hazlewood one-hander on the boundary became six when the paceman’s foot brushed the rope, regular wickets throughout prevented the hosts from creating the sort of momentum required to pass 300.
In his second ODI appearance, Stoinis prospered with his muscular medium-fast bowling, beating Williamson and Martin Guptill for pace in the air and off the wicket on his way to a three-wicket haul. Travis Head was also handy with his part-time offspin, coaxing Ross Taylor to drag on onto the stumps.
Guptill had appeared to be the New Zealand’s best hope of a big score before he fell to Stoinis, and it took an innings of impressive composure from Neil Broom to take them beyond 250. Eventually, his 73 off 75 balls proved just about enough.
Australia had been forced into a hurried reshuffle on match morning, with Finch taking over leadership from an injured Wade after Smith and Warner both missed the tour. The resultant changes to the Australian top order left them vulnerable to intelligent New Zealand bowling, and the early overs saw a steady procession of wickets that suggested this would not be a close encounter.
Finch and Head were out trying to assert themselves early on, via a pull to square leg and an upper cut to third man. Shaun Marsh’s return to Australian colours ahead of the India tour ended with dance down the wicket to Mitchell Santner and a comfortable stumping for Tom Latham. Either side of his dismissal, Peter Handscomb and Glenn Maxwell both edged length deliveries behind, and when the debutant Sam Heazlett also offered up an edge, the score fell to 67 for 6 and New Zealand looked sure winners.
What followed reflected tremendous credit on Stoinis, but also on how Twenty20 has influenced the thinking of batsmen around the world. Stoinis and Faulkner were happy to let the required rate blow out to near 10 an over, getting themselves in and working out the vagaries of Eden Park’s drop-in pitch and short boundaries before accelerating.
Pat Cummins played his part by striking the ball cleanly to help Stoinis bring the asking rate down, before Santner earned another stumping with his slower pace, flight and spin. Mitchell Starc was unable to contain himself when presented with Santner’s last delivery and was caught on the midwicket boundary, before Stoinis caught fire with a barrage of sixes to take Australia so close to a win they had no right to expect for most of the afternoon.
Wade had been ruled out due to a back complaint he reported on match eve. His absence meant Handscomb took the gloves, and also that the young Queensland batsman Heazlett made his debut in the middle order. Heazlett was included in the squad without having played a single domestic limited-overs match for his state and was listed to bat at No. 7.
There was next to no swing for Starc with the new ball after Finch sent New Zealand in to bat, and it was a short ball from the left-armer that brushed Tom Latham’s glove to offer Handscomb a catch behind the wicket. Guptill and Williamson appeared to be setting a sound platform before the captain squeezed a Stoinis delivery off bat and pad to backward point, and a similarly promising stand between Guptill and Taylor ended when the latter fell to Head.
Stoinis then found a way past Guptill and coaxed Colin Munro to pop a catch to mid-on, leaving Broom and James Neesham with the salvage job. Neesham played with particular verve and was looking to accelerate further when he was well held by Head on the midwicket boundary for 48.
Santner and Tim Southee did not last long, and Broom eventually miscued a length ball from Faulkner to long-on as the overs ticked down. Trent Boult connected with a couple of meaty blows, which in the final analysis gave Williamson’s men just enough breathing room to contain the Stoinis Hurricane. Agencies