Veteran Glenn McGrath dished out an exhibition of top class pace bowling as Australia registered a convincing 34-run victory over New Zealand to enter the final of the ICC Champions Trophy, at the Punjab Cricket Association stadium, in Mohali, on Wednesday.
Set a modest target of 241, New Zealand's batsmen failed miserably against the Australian pace bowlers and were bowled out for 206 in 46 overs in the first semi-final.
McGrath, who took three wickets for 22 runs in his 10 overs, did the maximum damage upfront as New Zealand were reduced to 35 for 6 by the 15th over.
Nathan Bracken, who claimed 2 for 36, gave him good support, while Brett Lee finished with 2 for 31.
Daniel Vettori saved New Zealand the blushes with a timely knock of 79. He added 103 runs for the seventh wicket with Jacob Oram, who scored 43, as the Kiwis mustered a decent total after that horrible start.
Earlier, New Zealand seamer Kyle Mills claimed four wickets for 38 runs.
New Zealand captain Stephen Fleming's decision to field first reaped instant rewards as Mills provided a double breakthrough in his second over, claiming the wickets of Shane Watson (0) and Adam Gilchrist (3).
But Ricky Ponting and Andrew Symonds scored 58 each to rally Australia to 240 for 9 in their 50 overs after those early reverses.
Mills then returned with Shane Bond (2 for 55) in the final overs to check the Aussies, who could score just 52 runs in the last 10.
In the final on Sunday, November 5, Australia meet the winner of the South Africa-West Indies semi-final..
The pitch offered New Zealand seamers Shane Bond and Kyle Mills lot of assistance. Shane Watson just could not get hold of things as the ball consistently moved around. He tried to do something different as he attempted a pull shot off Mills in the third over. The ball was not that short; it pitched just outside the off-stump and Watson could only spoon a simple catch to mid-off and be dismissed for 0.
Three balls later Mills struck again; this time the big wicket of Adam Gilchrist. The left-hander was caught by Jacob Oram at midwicket for 3, as Australia were reduced to 4 for 2 after three overs.
The ball was doing all sort of things. Bond kept the batsmen jumping with his bouncy in-swingers, while Mills swung it the other way.
But Australia are renowned for delivering the goods even in the most difficult situations. When other teams would have crumbled easily in such a situation, Australia counter-attacked in style.
Damien Martyn and Ricky Ponting took some time to adjust to the conditions, but once they gauged the pitch, they launched into the Kiwi bowlers. They were also helped by the fact that the pacers sprayed the ball around a bit and gave too many extras.
After the first five overs, Australia were reeling at 6 for 2. But in the next 10 overs, they stamped their authority, scoring 55 runs to reach 61 for 2 after 15 overs.
The two batsmen added 66 runs for the third wicket before Martyn fell for 26. He was dismissed leg before wicket to left-arm spinner Daniel Vettori as he attempted a sweep in the 20th over.
Ponting continued scoring at a brisk rate as New Zealand looked clueless in the middle overs after that brilliant start. The Australian captain reached his half-century, his 55th in ODIs and ninth against New Zealand, with a single in the 27th over.
The Australian pair of Ponting and Michael Hussey looked in complete command. It was quite clear that if they continued in the same vein they would post a huge total, way in excess of the 250-mark.
But Mills struck with the vital wicket of Ponting in the 29th over. The Australian captain attempted a pull shot but skied the ball straight to Vettori at mid-on. He scored 58 from 80 balls, inclusive of eight boundaries, adding 53 runs for the fourth wicket with Hussey.
Andrew Symonds announced himself with a huge six off Vettori, who till then kept the batsmen on a tight leash. The runs kept flowing at a quick rate with Symonds at the crease.
Hussey adjusted his batting accordingly. While Symonds looked for the big shots, Hussey was quite content to rotate the strike.
The left-hander was caught by Hamish Marshall at point as he hit a short wide delivery straight to the fielder off James Franklin for 35. He was involved in a quick 65-run partnership, off just 61 balls, for the fifth wicket with Symonds.
The quick wickets kept New Zealand in the hunt even though Australia were scoring at a good rate.
Bond provided New Zealand with a major breakthrough in the first over of his second spell, getting the wicket of the dangerous Symonds.
The right-hander, who scored 58 from 58 balls, was bowled as he tried to flick the fast bowler. The full toss crashed into the leg stumps as Australia were reduced to 211 for 6 in the 46th over.
Michael Clarke didn't last long either; he was caught by Vettori off Mills for 14.
Bond then bowled his Australian fast bowling counterpart Brett Lee for 5 in the 48th over to inflict further misery on the Aussies.
Mitchell Johnson was run out for 3 after a direct hit from Bond off his bowling in the final over.
Nathan Bracken used the long handle to good effect, scored 15 valuable runs off eight balls as Australia finished on 240 for 9 in their 50 overs.
New Zealand fought back brilliantly in the last overs, giving away just 52 runs and taking five wickets in the process.
Mills emerged the best bowler with figures of 4 for 38 in his 10 overs. He and Bond (2 for 55) were instrumental in staging a fightback for the Kiwis.
Australia though will not be too upset with the score, especially after the loss of those two early wickets. The ball was swinging quite a bit at the start and they did quite well to recover. They were also partly helped by the New Zealand bowlers, who sprayed it all over, conceding 14 wides.
Australia will now be hoping that their four pacers can also make use maximum use of the conditions and peg back New Zealand right from the start. Stephen Fleming's wicket holds the key.
New Zealand innings:
New Zealand started cautiously, with both their openers looking to play out the initial overs. It worked perfectly for Glenn McGrath, as he kept pegging away at the off-stump line. And very soon he had the first wicket, when he got Lou Vincent caught behind for 1 in the sixth over. Vincent had a disappointing tournament, scoring just 34 runs in four matches at 8.50.
Brett Lee then struck in the next over, getting the wicket of Nathan Astle for 0. A fast, incoming delivery caught him unawares and he walked back after playing just four deliveries.
Hamish Marshall looked terribly out of place in the middle. His misery finally ended when he edged McGrath to wicketkeeper Adam Gilchrist for 5.
Left-armer Nathan Bracken replaced Brett Lee in the 11th over and he struck immediately. He got the big wicket of Stephen Fleming, who was caught by Ponting at second slip for 15. New Zealand were reeling at 30 for 4 in the 11th over. At this stage it seemed impossible that they could claw their way back into the match.
Peter Fulton's dismissal said the whole story. He shouldered arms to an incoming delivery from McGrath and to his dismay the ball crashed on to his off-stump, in the 14th over. McGrath seemed unstoppable at the moment; the Kiwi batsmen had no clue how to bat against him, losing half their side with just 34 runs on the board.
Brendon McCullum tried to hit New Zealand out of trouble, but he could hit as far as Martyn on the leg-side off Bracken as the Kiwis slipped to 35 for 6 in the 15th over.
McGrath bowled his 10 overs on the trot, finishing with impressive figures of 3 for 22.
Jacob Oram and Daniel Vettori then set about repairing the damage. They stayed positive and dispatched the loose deliveries when on offer.
Vettori, who was dropped by Hussey on 5, reached his half-century, his third in ODIs, with a single on the off-side in the 34th over.
Even though the two batsmen were scoring at a brisk rate, the target still seemed far. After all, it was just the question of one wicket and it would bring in the tail-enders.
The breakthrough came in the 36th over when Oram was stumped by Gilchrist off part-time spinner Andrew Symonds for 43. He hit five boundaries in his 59-ball knock, adding 103 runs for the seventh wicket with Vettori, who was looking good on 52.
James Franklin was the eighth wicket to fall, caught behind off Shane Watson for 8, as Australia slowly but surely inched towards a crushing victory.
Vettori's brilliant essay ended in the 43rd over, when he was bowled by Mitchell Johnson. He scored 79 from 103 balls, hitting seven boundaries during his two-hour stay at the wicket. If it was not for his timely knock, the match would have finished an hour back.
Kyle Mills provided some entertainment at the end, hitting 21 from 17 balls, including a huge six over mid-wicket off Symonds. His was the last wicket to fall, caught behind off Lee as New Zealand were bowled out for 206 in 46 overs.
Australia won by 34 runs to enter the final of the Champions Trophy for the first time. If they maintain this form there is no reason why they can't end up winning the trophy.
All the Aussie bowlers did a good job, especially McGrath, who was just brilliant. After a slow start in the tournament, it seems he is getting better and better with every outing.
The margin of victory may not tell the real story, but once New Zealand were reduced to 35 for 6, it was only a face-saving effort after that from the remaining batsmen.