LONDON - The break for drinks arrived and the groundsmen at Lord’s sprinted into the middle.
While Australia fielders and New Zealand batsmen gulped down fluids on the hottest day of the British summer, three orange-shirted men fussed over the pitch — cleaning, brushing, fixing, painting.
For all intents and purposes, the groundsmen appeared to be preparing a burial plot, which Australia was only too happy to lower the New Zealanders into on Saturday. Australia strangled the life out of the Kiwis to win their Cricket World Cup group match by 86 runs.
Top-order batsman Usman Khawaja and wicketkeeper Alex Carey rescued Australia at 92-5 with a century stand, and fast bowler Mitchell Starc polished off the effort with 5-26, tournament-best figures.
Four days after routing England by 64 runs on the same pitch, Australia’s bowlers were even better in defending 243 and dismissing New Zealand for 157 in the 44th over.
“We were fantastic to keep such a good side to under 160,” Starc said.
The left-arm paceman’s second 5-wicket haul of this event gave him a tournament-leading 24, two more than he earned in the 2015 World Cup, with at least two more matches to play.
His wickets, however, were the result of pressure applied by his fellow bowlers.
Jason Behrendorff removed the openers cheaply, and part-time spinners Steve Smith, Aaron Finch and Glenn Maxwell, and specialist Nathan Lyon helped to tie down the Kiwis, who cracked trying to make runs.
New Zealand’s chase was as good as over from the 32nd over, once captain Kane Williamson and Ross Taylor were back in the pavilion for 40 and 30 respectively.
Of the 261 balls the New Zealand batsmen faced in their innings, 172 were dots.
Starc was virtually unplayable: Of his 58 deliveries, 45 were dots. Fellow left-armer Behrendorff was left alone for 37 of his 54 deliveries. Pat Cummins for 28 of his 36.
Australia, still the only team to have qualified for the semifinals, is heading to the playoffs ruthlessly improving in every appearance.
“We’ve always spoken about peaking towards the back end of the tournament,” Starc said. “We’re still searching for that perfect performance. We’re not quite there yet. We’re showing glimpses. That’s exciting.”
After promising to keep its foot on the pedal, the Australians squeezed out a fifth consecutive win defending a total since its only loss to India. The defending champions extended their lead atop the standings to three points over unbeaten India, which has two games in hand.
The New Zealanders would have cemented their semifinals position with a win, but the day-nighter reflected their performance: Started brightly only to end up being completely shaded.
Depending on results over the next three days involving England and Bangladesh, New Zealand could go into its last group match on Wednesday against England as desperate for a win as the tournament host.
By the 14th over of the chase, Williamson and Taylor, New Zealand’s best batsmen, were together. But they were hardly any less constricted. Their 15-over team total of 46-2 was the lowest of the tournament. The pair went 10 overs without scoring a boundary.
They were pinned by spin, and Starc benefited when he returned for his second spell by getting the big wicket of Williamson. The New Zealand captain was tempted by a fielder vacating slips and tried to dab Starc away only to glance behind to wicketkeeper Carey. That ended a stand of 50 with Taylor, who was out skying a fast ball from Cummins.
The match also started well for bowlers, New Zealand’s.
Australia couldn’t get a run in the first two overs for the first time in seven years.
Finch, who scored 100 on Tuesday at Lord’s against England, was trapped on 8, and his opening partnership with David Warner, averaging 91 in this tournament, was broken on 15.
Warner was blown away by Lockie Ferguson on 16 and booed off. He was also quick to leave Lord’s after the win. His pregnant wife Candice is due to give birth in a London hospital to their third child on Sunday.
“Good luck to the Warners,” Starc said. “I think when we see him in Manchester (in three days), he’ll have his hands full again.”
Steve Smith was booed in, made 5, and was out swatting a vicious pull at Martin Guptill at leg gully. Guptill, just 19 meters away, had an estimated 0.6 seconds to react, leap left, and trap the smoking ball high in his left hand. Even Lord’s members, allowed to take off their blazers in the heat, stood and applauded the incredible catch.
Jimmy Neesham removed Marcus Stoinis on 8 and Maxwell on 1, and Australia was in deep trouble.
Up stepped Khawaja with 88 and Carey with 71 in a fightback worth 107 for the sixth wicket.
Khawaja had been scrabbling at the crease since the fifth over, surviving two dropped catches and a run out chance. He played anchor while Carey blazed away with 11 boundaries to be man of the match.
Khawaja stuck around to the 50th over, when he was the first wicket of Trent Boult’s hat trick. Boult also yorkered Starc and trapped Behrendorff for his second hat trick in ODIs, and the first for New Zealand in World Cups.
Starc and Behrendorff got payback with a cherry on top, leaving Boult the only not out New Zealand batsman, on 2.