Fast bowlers deliver big win for Australia in series opener
Australia 7 for 258 (Warner 67, Finch 60, Labuschagne 56, Sodhi 3-51) beat New Zealand 187 (Guptill 40, Latham 38, Cummins 3-25, Marsh 3-29) by 71 runs
At an empty SCG where the sound of bat on ball reverberated around the stadium and players tried to avoid high-fives, Australia secured a 71-run victory in the opening match of the Chappell-Hadlee series on the day where the impacts of coronavirus were felt across the full range of sports.
After the early-morning announcement that spectators would not be admitted to the three matches of this series - two in Sydney and one in Hobart next Friday - there was a bizarre atmosphere across proceedings, including the toss interviews being conducted by Spidercam to avoid getting too close to players, followed by the sight of international cricketers clambering into the stands to fetch the ball having walked onto the arena in near silence.
While recording the events that took place seems odd, an international match was played and this occurred: David Warner and Aaron Finch added 124 in 24 overs before Australia faltered against New Zealand's spinners, then Marnus Labuschagne hauled them to 7 for 258 on a tricky late-season pitch. Australia then bowled impressively - Adam Zampa's googly to remove Kane Williamson the highlight - while Mitchell Marsh and Pat Cummins took three apiece.
In a series marketed on the retro kits worn both sides, there was a throwback feel to much of the cricket as scoring proved hard work throughout. Even when Warner and Finch were together, they could rarely completely break free. The start of New Zealand's chase felt especially 1990s as they crawled to 1 for 28 after 10 overs, Henry Nicholls the first to fall when he edged Josh Hazlewood, and could not make up the lost ground.
The guts of the innings was taken out in a three-over period that saw Williamson, Martin Guptill and Ross Taylor depart. Zampa's delivery to remove Williamson, who had looked in good touch, was as good a piece of bowling as has been all season, drawing the New Zealand captain forward then beating him with drift and spin.
In the next over Taylor clubbed Marsh to mid-on before Guptill, who had labored to 40, save for one straight six off Zampa, was superbly caught at backward point by Steven Smith off Pat Cummins who then bounced out Jimmy Neesham to leave them 5 for 96.
Tom Latham and Colin de Grandhomme revived hopes in a stand of 51 in eight overs - Latham counterattacking against Zampa with three boundaries in four balls - but Hazlewood broke through after the drinks break when Latham top edged to deep square leg. When de Grandhomme picked out long-on against Zampa with 99 still needed that was almost the game.
New Zealand waited 24 overs for their first wicket but it could have come sooner. They spurned two chances to break the opening stand by declining to use the DRS when Finch edged a hook against Trent Boult in the third over and again in the 13th when they did not review an lbw against Santner that would have been overturned.
Australia's opening pair had been kept to four an over in the first nine overs before Finch and Warner opened their shoulders against Jimmy Neesham, taking his second over for 15. Finch struck his second six when he slog-swept Sodhi on the way to a 55-ball half-century while Warner's came up off 69 deliveries, although he briefly appeared unaware of the milestone in the almost silent arena.
The breakthrough came when Warner was rushed into a pull by the rapid Lockie Ferguson and awkwardly spliced the ball to mid-on. Finch departed four overs later when he edged a back-foot push off Santner, much to the captain's frustration as he kicked the turf, then Smith - who had produced one extraordinary flick over square leg for six off Ferguson - was beaten by one that turned in a beautiful piece of bowling by Santner.
Finch's wicket had brought a change of tactics from Australia as D'Arcy Short was promoted to No. 4 ahead of Labuschagne. But a few moments later both batsmen were at the crease on nought. Short couldn't get going at all, facing 18 deliveries for five runs before pulling his 19th, from Sodhi, straight to deep midwicket.
Labuschagne and Marsh prevented a full-on collapse but just as they were shaping for a late acceleration, Sodhi produced a telling 46th over, having Marsh caught at cover and Alex Carey top-edging a sweep to short fine leg. Labuschagne, who scored his maiden ODI hundred in the last match of the South Africa tour, reached his half-century from 46 balls but the last 20 overs of the innings brought just 112 runs.
In the end, though, it proved more than enough. Barring further developments, the teams will be back to do it again on Sunday at an empty ground. Something sport will have to get used to.