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AUS vs NZ, ICC World Cup: Neesham’s heroics fall short as Australia pips New Zealand in last over

How often have the New Zealand cricketers won hearts instead of a close match?

Once again, this genial giant proved gallant in pursuit of a seemingly uphill task and left the spirited Aussies triumphant by just five runs at the HPCA Stadium here on Saturday.

On a batting beauty of a pitch, if New Zealand believed it could overhaul Australia’s 388, its optimism could not be faulted. With the ball coming nicely on the bat, short boundaries encouraged the batters to clear the ropes.

After all, the Australian openers David Warner and Travis Head had shown the way.

In the evening, following Rachin Ravindra’s century, James Neesham kept the Kiwis alive in the world record chase till the last ball.

Effectively, Neesham’s run-out while trying to complete a second run off the innings’ penultimate ball proved decisive.

Ravindra’s delightful shot-making on his way to his second World Cup century left New Zealand eyeing 96 runs off 59 deliveries. However, once he holed out at deep extra cover, Neesham almost scripted a stunning win.

Earlier, truly eventful was Australia’s ride to 388, dotted with a record high of 20 sixes. A blistering 175-run start – including 144 in the first 13 overs preceded an 18-over spin-dominated phase when only 92 runs came for four wickets.

From the 40th over, a ‘second wind’ produced 108 runs off nine overs followed by the fall of the last four wickets – including three to pacer Trent Boult in the penultimate over – for one run.

Head, making his World Cup debut after recovering from a fractured left hand, blasted a 67-ball 109 to outpace in-form fellow left-hander Warner who fell short by 19 runs to complete a hat-trick of centuries.

This duo smashed 11 boundaries and 10 sixes in the first 13 overs to leave New Zealand skipper Tom Latham wondering whether it was a wise decision to field first.

If Australia did not cross 400, New Zealand owed it to off-spinner Glenn Phillips, slow left-arm bowler Mitchell Santner and Boult.

Introduced in the 14th over, Phillips produced a spell of 10-0-37-3 – scalping Head, Warner and Steve Smith. Santner sent back Mitchell Marsh and Marnus Labuschagne in his successive overs to keep Australia at 279 for five in 39 overs.

With speedster Lockie Ferguson not available following an ankle twist after bowling just three overs, Australia changed gears.

Eleven overs to go, Glenn Maxwell ended the 18-over spell of single-digit scores and smashed a 24-ball-41. Josh Inglis made up for a slow start with a 38 before skipper Pat Cummins’14-ball-37 rekindled the prospects of posting a 400+ total.

But Boult’s triple strike hastened the end.

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