Auckland: New Zealand on Saturday became the first team to enter the Cricket World Cup quarterfinals, clinching a nerve-wrecking one-wicket triumph over four-time champions Australia after dismissing them for their second lowest tournament total in a pool A thriller here.
In a low-scoring match that went right down to the wire, the nervous Kiwis huffed and puffed to victory after man of the match pacer Trent Boult's career-best five-wicket haul had helped bowl out the Aussies for 151 in 32.2 overs at a packed Eden Park.
Chasing the modest target, New Zealand skipper Brendon McCullum, playing through a swollen arm after being hit by a Mitchell Johnson bouncer, whacked a 24-ball 50 to lay the foundation of the victory. However, what seemed like an easy chase was almost turned on its head by Aussie pacer Mitchell Starc, who scalped the second best bowling figures in the World Cup with a haul of 6/28 in nine overs. But that was not enough as New Zealand eventually crossed the finishing line in 23.1 overs.
The Black Caps made things difficult for themselves owing to a mid-innings collapse but Kane Williamson (45 not out; 42b, 5X4, 1X6) kept his cool amid chaos to complete the win with a six off Pat Cummins. This was New Zealand's fourth successive win in the event and ensured them a place in the last-eight by consolidating their position at the top of the points table. The team is chasing its first World Cup title.
Australia, who chose to bat after winning the toss, lost eight wickets for mere 26 runs, their worst mid-innings collapse ever, before a last-wicket stand of 45 between Brad Haddin (43) and Pat Cummins (7 not out) lent some respectability to the scorecard. Nine down for 108 at one stage, the Aussies were in danger of being bowled out for their lowest World Cup total, which currently stands at 129 (against India in 1983), before the 37-year-old Haddin saved them a few blushes.
Boult finished his 10 overs, including three maidens, with five wickets which cost a mere 27 runs, prompting the packed stadium to give a standing ovation to the 25-year-old for his effort. Boult's haul was outshone by Starc figuratively but was not enough to alter the result. Statistically, Starc's figures currently stand just behind New Zealand's Tim Southee, who returned 7/33 against England earlier in this edition.
It was a stunning collapse for the Aussies, who were rather well-placed at 50 for one in 5.3 overs to start with. They moved to 80 for one in 12.5 overs before New Zealand roared back into the proceedings riding on Boult's firepower and veteran spinner Daniel Vettori's stifling spell.
Vettori finished with figures of 2/41 from his 10 overs. The Kiwi bowlers disciplined effort was also helped to an extent by the poor shot-selection of the Australians some of whom were guilty of quite literally throwing away their wickets. Among the batsmen who got out to loose shots was inspirational skipper Michael Clarke (12), who was playing his first international match since recovering from a hamstring surgery last month.
Opener David Warner's 34 was the only contribution worth a mention among the top-order batsmen, who found Boult and Vettori simply too hard to score of. In fact, had it not been for Haddin's 41-ball knock, laced with four fours and a couple of sixes, Australia could well have been bowled out for their lowest ever World Cup total. In reply, the Kiwis was quick off the blocks much to the delight of the home fans. McCullum and Martin Guptill (11) dealt mostly in fours and sixes as Mitchell Johnson and Starc got down to defending the rather indefensible score given to them by their batsmen.
McCullum, in superlative form so far, could be halted for a while only after being struck on his arm by a rising Johnson delivery. However, the right-hander played on, hammering seven fours and three sixes. Far from putting him in discomfort, the hit on the arm pumped up McCullum, who went on a rampage against Johnson, smashing him for two fours and a six in the seventh over. McCullum completed his third half-century of the tournament in 21 deliveries, equalling his fifth fastest in ODIs, before being caught by Starc at mid-off off the bowling of Pat Cummins.
Williamson and Corey Anderson shared (26) a 52-run stand before another mini-collapse rocked the Kiwis. But Williamson hung in there till the very end to steer New Zealand home. A hapless Johnson, who was smacked for 52 runs in his first spell of four overs, finished with dismal figures of 0/68 in his six overs.