2015 ICC world Cup: “Two Drunks Walk Onto a pitch…”


Perhaps it was the hothouse atmosphere of a packed Eden Park? Perhaps the pre-match hype of 400-plus totals warped perceptions? Perhaps, in this age of the process-driven dressing room, someone handed out the wrong memo and they all thought they were playing T20?

For the majority of this bizarre affair, the two host nations for this World Cup tournament seemed gripped in a mutual fever dream. This contest had all the rhyme and reason of two drunks arguing in a bar.

A manic day began as it ended. Warner and Finch scored 30 off 13 deliveries before Aaron Finch decided discretion played no part in valour and lost his stumps to an airy waft. Watto joined Warner and they seemed determined to maintain the pace – the 50 arrived halfway through the sixth over.

McCullum astutely introduced Vettori in defiance of Powerplay fielding restrictions. A brave gamble paid off, as momentum stalled.

Nevertheless, Australia was still going at better than  six-an-over when Watto decided to force the issue. Outsmarted by a Vettori skidder, he holed out well short of the mid-wicket boundary. At 2-80 it looked like nothing more than another wasted Watto start. It looked a little more serious next ball, when Southee trapped Warner on the crease with an inswinger and won the benefit of a tight LBW call.

Still, with drinks taken at 3-94, and Michael Clarke looking sharp after his much discussed layoff, the time seemed ripe for a rebuild. Instead, Trent Boult returned and mayhem ensued.

Enduring Kryptonite for Australian batting remains a swinging ball or quality spin bowling. One or the other has been central to every Australian batting collapse going back for decades. Both played their part today.

Vettori started the ball rolling by inducing a flat-footed Smith to nick behind. After a dream summer, Steve Smith has looked worryingly out of sorts in both his World Cup digs to date. Are the laws of cricket gravity kicking in?

Glenn Maxwell is a prime example of the “play your game” school of modern batting. Whilst playing your natural game isn’t a bad starting point in most circumstances, this specific circumstance – with 33 overs still to bat – demanded better than Maxwell’s overly ambitious chop into his own stumps.

What followed was yet another reminder that cock-eyed bats and indecisive footwork are no way to deal with swinging deliveries. In an astonishingly short time Boult had claimed 5-1 in a single burst. He bowled well, but he’s no Wasim Akram. Australian incompetence was his greatest ally this day.

At 9-106 with 28 overs to bat, Pat Cummins finally decided that maybe it was an idea to stick around with Haddin and use at least half the available overs. In the circumstances, Haddin’s 43 was a commendable salvage effort. Still, no one was thinking 151 looked particularly defendable.

It looked even less likely when Mitch Johnson contrived to concede 11 runs in the process of completing the first legal delivery. Whatever mojo possessed Mitch during the last Ashes series, it’s been largely missing in action this summer. Though he tagged the Kiwi skipper on his front arm, there was little follow up and blow only seemed to incite McCullum to even greater frenzied flailing.

With Mitch’s first four overs costing a risible 52, Guptill’s sacrificed wicket seemed largely incidental to the unfolding carnage. McCullum reached his personal half century in the eighth over before picking out mid-off. At 2-78 it seemed a decisive cameo, even when Taylor’s swift departure made it 3-79.

The arbitrary tea break offered Australia a much needed chance to regroup, as did Elliot’s hapless defensive stroke to the first ball on resumption. 4-79 gave the Aussies a sniff.

Cory Anderson essayed some woeful attempted pull shots with the air of a man suspecting he was on borrowed time. It was his extravagant good fortune that Mitch returned and served up several deliveries precisely into his very specific hitting zone. 0-52 off four became 0-68 off five on the Johnson personal scorecard.

Mitch Marsh followed up his duck by conceding 11 runs in his only over, whereupon Clarke turned to Maxwell’s trundles with an air of concession. At 5-131 this really should have been in the New Zealand bag. Anderson promptly holed out, and the madness descended again.

Starc returned for one final fling. Ronchi had hit Maxwell for six, but to Starc he could only glove the ball behind. Then Vettori, of all people, politely poked a Cummins full toss to mid-on.

At 7-145 Williamson took a single off Starc. It nearly cost his team the game. Milne, then Southee, played Starc inswingers as if hypnotised. It was now 9-146. Boult adopted the interesting tactic of playing back to the expected hat-trick yorker, but survived to give Williamson the strike.

Since the departure of Guptill, Kane Williamson had been batting with the detached air of a man who really didn’t want to be associated with the nonsense going on at the other end of the pitch. He now took matters into his own hands. Realising that Cummins was beginning his over with mid-on up, he deposited the ball straight into the crowd to end proceedings.

Like the aftermath of most drunken disputes, there will be regrets aplenty on both sides and observers will be left wondering if it meant anything at all.

New Zealand are certainly sitting pretty with four wins from four and a home semi looking a good bet. In swinging conditions, Boult and Southee threaten, as will Vettori in any conditions. But their 4th and 5th bowlers were barely exposed at all today. Sterner tests must be expected.

McCullum’s current onslaughts will have new ball bowlers across the tournament contemplating their own manhood, but it remains a high-wire act that could stumble at a crucial moment. The rest of the top order batting will need to convince more than they did today. The Kiwis, as much as any team, will be conscious of the perils of the knockout stage.

Michael Clarke’s post-match comments were interpreted as a dig at the coach. Such has been the summer’s media narrative that anything he says is likely to be treated thus. But his statements could also suggest that his team has trouble walking and chewing gum at the same time. This may be closer to an uncomfortable truth. Warner, Finch, Watson, Maxwell and Marsh can all be devastating when they come off, but none of them are renowned for arresting a slumping innings. The Australian batting line-up could go off with a bang, or just as easily explode in their own faces.

This makes the form of Smith and the Skipper vital, for they will be needed for crucial stabilising roles at some stage. And George Bailey shouldn’t be making other plans just yet.

Nothing that either host produced in this game will have surprised the South Africans or Indians. Fixture aside, there is a very long way to go in this tournament.


ICC Cricket World Cup – 20th match, Pool A

New Zealand v Australia – at Eden Park, Auckland

New Zealand 9/152 d Australia 151

New Zealand won by 1 wicket (with 161 balls remaining)



About John Butler

John Butler has fled the World's Most Liveable Car Park and now breathes the rarefied air of the Ballarat Plateau. For his sins, he has passed his 40th year as a Carlton member.


  1. E.regnans says

    Love it, JB.
    When all the ducks line up, anyone can look a world-beater.
    Or a dud.
    I watched mighty S Africa in a very tepid run chase v India at the MCG a week & a half ago.

    I struggle to understand how a cricketer can reach national representation and not have sufficient all-round game awareness to tailor an innings/ bowling spell to suit a given match situation. How can that be?

  2. Superb piece JB. The drunks arguing in a bar analogy is perfect.
    Given the discussion of cricket journalism on another thread, it was very timely that you put this up. I love the way that ERegnans captures the moment of a game. Your dissections when the smoke clears, cut and dice the victims and the murder scene like a Kay Scarpetta autopsy.
    Well played.

  3. Peter Flynn says

    Wake me up when the right balance is again struck between bat and ball.

  4. John Butler says

    Very kind to an old man as usual gents.

    Games like this one help remind us just how much nonsense is contained in all the management palaver that hangs off the game like so many barnacles. Ultimately, if the player is thinking about some coaching directive as the ball is delivered, he’s got a problem.

    PJF, spot on as usual. If the contest contains no contest, it all ends up feeling like you’re dancing with your sister (apologies to D. Pagan).

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