Victorious co-hosts Australia, NZ lay markers

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AARON-FINCHSYDNEY, February 14- Co-hosts Australia and New Zealand both enjoyed dominating wins in front of their own fans as they launched the World Cup with a pair of crushing victories on Saturday.

In the first match of the 2015 tournament, New Zealand beat Sri Lanka by 98 runs at Christchurch’s Hagley Oval.

Hours later, however, Australia thrashed arch-rivals England by the even bigger margin of 111 runs in a day/night clash at the Melbourne Cricket Ground.

Australia opener Aaron Finch, on his home ground, compiled the 2015 World Cup’s first century with a blistering innings of 135, having been dropped before he had scored by Chris Woakes off James Anderson.

Finch’s knock, which featured 12 fours and three sixes was the cornerstone of Australia’s 342 for nine, with England paceman Steven Finn’s hat-trick — another first at this World Cup — all but irrelevant.

Medium-pacer Mitchell Marsh, like Finch making his World Cup debut, then starred with the ball to take five for 33 as England were dismissed for 231 despite James Taylor’s gutsy 98 not out.

“Aaron Finch rose to the occasion,” said Australia stand-in captain George Bailey, who tried to ensure he was more than a temporary replacement for the injured Michael Clarke with 55 in an innings where Glenn Maxwell smashed 66.

“We want great innings and to turn them into match-winning knocks and that’s definitely what we got today.”

Bailey added: “Mitchell Marsh was outstanding, he broke the game open for us.”

England skipper Eoin Morgan flopped again with the bat as he was out for his fourth duck in five innings.

“I think the (Australia) score was probably above par even though the wicket was very good,” said Morgan.

“Our fielding was poor and our death bowling not on target at times. James was unlucky at the end not to get a hundred and he struck the ball cleanly.”

– Anderson’s all-round effort –

New Zealand cemented their status as genuine contenders for the World Cup with a comprehensive victory over 1996 champions Sri Lanka, the losing finalists at the last two editions.

Co-hosts New Zealand piled up 331 for six after losing the toss at a chilly Hagley Oval, with skipper Brendon McCullum (65) and Kane Williamson (57) laying the foundations before all-rounder Corey Anderson smashed 75 off just 46 balls at the finish.

The most astonishing feature of the innings, however, was that Sri Lanka spearhead Lasith Malinga, went wicketless in an expensive 10-over spell costing 84 runs.

Sri Lanka were well-placed at 124 for one but their innings fell away, with all-rounder Anderson taking two for 18.

New Zealand had beaten Sri Lanka 4-2 in a preceding home one-day international series and McCullum said: “It was a really good performance. We’ve waited such a long time for this match and you hope the form you had leading into it will stack up.”

Disappointed Sri Lanka skipper Angelo Mathews said: “They probably scored 30 or 40 runs too many and then we needed someone in our top four to get a hundred. But we are not going to panic, we still have five group games left.”

One highlight for Sri Lanka was that Kumar Sangakkara scored the 12 runs he needed to go into second place on the list of highest one-day international run-scorers, passing Australia’s Ricky Ponting, who made 13,704 runs before he retired.

India legend Sachin Tendulkar tops the list for most ODI runs with a mammoth 18,426.

If Australia-England represents cricket’s oldest international rivalry, India-Pakistan is its fiercest and the two Asian nations will open their World Cup against one another in Adelaide on Sunday in a game where tickets sold out within 20 minutes.

Pakistan, who won their only World Cup in Australia in 1992, have endured a chaotic build-up with match-winning spinner Saeed Ajmal suspended because of a suspect action and eight players already fined for breaking a curfew.

South Africa, looking to end their World Cup heartache, launch their quest for the title against Zimbabwe in an all-African clash at Hamilton’s Seddon Park.

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