Twenty20 vision with some 1980s hindsight
Cricket's annals will note that the first Twenty20 international was turned by Ricky Ponting's unbeaten innings of 98, which led Australia to a 44-run victory over New Zealand.
Cricket's annals will note that the first Twenty20 international was turned by Ricky Ponting's unbeaten innings of 98, which led Australia to a 44-run victory over New Zealand. But for the 30,000 fans at Eden Park last night, the contest will be remembered more for 1980s uniforms, a killer retro soundtrack and Glenn McGrath's feigned under-arm delivery.
The fact that Australia's triumph completed a rare 128-year clean sweep of winning the first Test (in 1877), one-day international (in 1970) and, now, Twenty20 international seemed trivial for the Aucklanders, more concerned with the party atmosphere than fretting over issues such as whether Twenty20 could revitalise, or supersede, one-day international cricket.
Instead, the locals danced and cheered among a backdrop of big hits, tumbling wickets and McGrath's threat of an under-arm delivery to Kyle Mills on the final ball of the match. All part of the sideshow.
"He said to me at the start of the over that he wanted to do it and I said, 'No'," Ponting said, before later relenting. "It was all a bit of light-hearted fun. We worded (umpire) Billy (Bowden) up as well to have a bit of a play around with it. I'm not sure if the crowd enjoyed it or hated it. I heard a few interesting calls coming from the grandstand before that ball."
AdvertisementSo enthusiastic were the Kiwi faithful, the Australians even drew the odd round of applause. Ponting, in particular, proved a crowd favourite - at one point slamming NZ paceman Daryl Tuffey for six, two, six, six, four, six off the 19th over to take his personal total from 63 to 93. In total, 17 sixes and 31 boundaries were struck by both teams over the course of the game.
"I probably haven't done that since primary school cricket," he said. "I don't think I've ever done it in an international before."
An over of that kind would have crushed the spirits of a bowling side in Test or one-day cricket. Yet such is the nature of the Twenty20 game that Ponting's inventive array of drives and pull shots was met with a mere shrug of the shoulders from the NZ team.
Heftier cheers, though, were reserved for the afro of NZ batsman Hamish Marshall, the moustaches of Stephen Fleming and Chris Cairns and the return of Jeff Wilson, playing his first cricket match against Australia in almost 12 years, having represented the All Blacks in 60 Tests in between. You'd have sworn a game of cricket had broken out in a rock concert. Then again, that was the exact effect English marketing gurus aimed for when they devised Twenty20 cricket several years ago in a bid to address plummeting crowd numbers in county matches.
"It is difficult to play seriously because you've got to go out and almost play against the way you'd normally play," Ponting said. "If it does become an international game, then I'm sure the novelty won't be there all the time. It will be a bit more serious. We were just here tonight to enjoy ourselves and entertain the crowd."
The party atmosphere began from the outset when Ponting, dressed in a 1980s Australian uniform minus lapels, chains and burgeoning chest hair, won the toss and elected to bat.
Playing before the biggest crowd at a NZ cricket match in three seasons, the Australian opening duo of Adam Gilchrist and Michael Clarke began unsteadily - hardly surprising, given that hardly any of the Australians or New Zealanders had previously been exposed to the furious Twenty20 format.
But while Australian wickets fell at a steady rate, Ponting never appeared troubled, slamming eight boundaries and five sixes in a 55-ball stay at the crease that yielded 98 not out. Andrew Symonds (32 off 11), Mike Hussey (31 off 15) and Simon Katich (30 off 25) provided able support.
The New Zealanders, in response, never looked like overhauling the Australians total. Inspired by Michael Kasprowicz's spell of 4-29 from four overs, the Australian attack promptly snuffed out the home side's hopes of victory.
Only Scott Styris provided meaningful resistance for the Black Caps, carrying his bat through most of the innings for 66 (from 39 balls) as the New Zealanders were bowled out for 170. The only other notable moment of the innings came when rookie all-rounder James Hopes claimed his first international wicket, removing Craig McMillan for nine.
"It's still hard to know," Ponting said, when asked Twenty20's place in international cricket. "I just hope the New Zealanders have a shave before they show up (in Wellington)."
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