Shaun Tait. Brett Lee. Mitchell Johnson. The hostile fast men from Australia made an imperious statement in Nagpur. They breathed fire and New Zealand didn't have the heart, and at least today, the skills, to extinguish them. Nathan McCullum and Daniel Vettori revived New Zealand from a disastrous 73 for 6, but a below-par 206 was not enough to avoid a crushing defeat. A flamboyant Brad Haddin and an imperious Shane Watson hit entertaining half-centuries to charge Australia home.
It was a shambolic effort from the New Zealand top order. Some of the deliveries didn't deserve wickets but New Zealand were in the mood for self-destruction. They handled the best bowler on view, Lee, with caution and gave him just one wicket but imploded against Tait and Johnson. Both bowlers bowled enough tight deliveries to lure the batsmen into mistakes with deliveries that had some teasing width. It remains to be seen how they will fare against a better batting line-up. Will today's wicket-taking deliveries be smashed for boundaries or will the batsmen continue to err on perceived pressure-releasing balls? Today, though, their efforts were enough to blow away New Zealand's top order.
Everything that one expected from this Australian pace attack was visible today. It was expected they would either blow away the opposition or leak runs on flat tracks. Eleven fours came in the first 12 overs but the wickets too kept tumbling. Lee strangled the batsmen with his nagging line and length, Tait slung them in full and fast, Johnson went round-arm to catapult pacy deliveries and Watson was accurate enough to let the vagaries of the up-and-down track to do its bit.
The pitch played its part in the dismissal of Martin Guptill, which proved to be a turning point of the innings as well. Guptill had just begun to get going after taking 19 deliveries to get off the mark, when he was late to get on the front foot to a delivery from Watson that shot through low under the bat to bowl him. When Guptill fell in the ninth over, New Zealand were 40 for 2 but it was the beginning of the end. By the 17th over, after the fall of Taylor, they were tottering at 73 for 6.
In many ways, Taylor's dismissal captured New Zealand's iffy batting effort. It was a full delivery on the off stump line and instead of driving it in the 'V', Taylor, who averages just 28.86 since March 2009, played a messy across-the-line waft to lose his stumps.
Luckily, for New Zealand, they found in Nathan McCullum, someone in good form - this is his third fifty in four innings - and in the mood to play risk-free cricket, to save them the blushes. He played the situation well, using his dab-nudge routine to collect the singles and putting away the occasional long hops from the spinners as boundaries. The fifty came with a steer to point but for the main part, he nurdled the ball to the leg side - 33 runs came in that region - to keep the score moving. He came in at 73 for 6 and by the time he fell in the 42nd over, trapped lbw by a skidding delivery from Johnson, he had pushed New Zealand to 175 for 8. Nathan McCullum was well supported by Vettori, who bided his time before playing the big shots in the end overs to push the score past 200. Vettori fell in the 45th over, edging an attempted pull off Lee and he will be left musing yet another debacle from his top order.
In contrast, the Australian openers oozed intent in the chase. Haddin punctuated his violent hits with some sweetly-timed drives to waltz through to a half-century while Watson heaved, slugged, muscled, thumped and carved his way to a merry fifty. The best shot of the day came from Haddin when he unfurled a gorgeous drive against Nathan McCullum. Haddin leaned forward to an off break to caress it through extra cover, a shot out of the Damien Martyn school of batting. The openers' brutal effort was the perfect icing on the cake after the stirring show from the fast bowlers.