Pas­sion at the Park

Taranaki Daily News - - Sport - AN­DREW VOERMAN

There’s some­thing spe­cial about New Zealand and Aus­tralia at Eden Park.

The two na­tions meet there once again tonight, as part of the Twenty20 cricket tri-se­ries that also in­volves Eng­land.

It could be a pre­lude to next Wed­nes­day’s fi­nal, at the same venue, with Aus­tralia al­ready sure of their place, and the Black Caps need­ing one win from their fi­nal two games – the other is against Eng­land in Hamil­ton on Sun­day – to get there.

A fort­night ago, Aus­tralia thumped the Black Caps in Syd­ney, win­ning the rain-hit se­ries opener by seven wick­ets with plenty of room to spare, and looked to be on an­other level. Tonight, we will see if home ad­van­tage can help close the gap.

It’s been al­most eight years since an Aus­tralian side tasted vic­tory at Eden Park, though that fig­ure is slightly mis­lead­ing, as they have only played three matches since their last win, in a one-day in­ter­na­tional in March 2010.

Those three losses were all in ODIs, one in each of last three years, but what­ever sig­nif­i­cance they carry will have to com­pete with the fact the Black Caps have lost their last three T20s at the ground, and five of the last seven.

Opener Martin Gup­till prob­a­bly had it right when he said yes­ter­day: ‘‘I don’t know if records count for much any more. Any team who plays well on the day is go­ing to win, so we just have to come out there and play our best to­mor­row night.’’

A bumper crowd is ex­pected tonight, and they will prob­a­bly quickly get a sense of where things are headed. If the Black Caps’ top or­der of Gup­till, Colin Munro and Kane Wil­liamson fail again, as they did in Syd­ney, or if Aus­tralia’s top or­der get off to a flyer, the home fans will prob­a­bly be in for a painful night.

But the re­verse is also true. If Gup­till and Wil­liamson carry their form through from the win over Eng­land in Welling­ton on Tues­day, where they made 65 and 72, it would help set up a real con­test, and if the Black Caps’ seam­ers make early in­roads, it would help keep the tar­get rea­son­able – any­thing over 160 would be a real chal­lenge.

It’s a tru­ism, but good starts lead to good re­sults, es­pe­cially in the game’s short­est for­mat, and the team that wins the power plays will prob­a­bly be the one that wins the match.

An ace up the Black Caps’ sleeve might be the home crowd, who the vis­i­tors seem to re­gard with a bit of ap­pre­hen­sion, hav­ing heard their coach, Dar­ren Lehmann, tell a yarn about a big sal­mon they once pro­duced.

‘‘They’re just a pas­sion­ate crowd, aren’t they?’’ said Aus­tralian bats­man Aaron Finch yes­ter­day.

‘‘Once New Zealand get on top in a game, they be­come such a

huge fac­tor. We saw in that World Cup game here, when New Zealand beat us, the crowd was just un­be­liev­able.

‘‘They get stuck into you, which is pretty good ban­ter at times – a lot of non-imag­i­na­tive stuff as well. It is a great place to play; the crowd feel right on top of you as well.’’

Finch nearly found him­self say­ing it was al­ways good to win at Eden Park, be­fore re­mem­ber­ing he was yet to have one.

If he does get one tonight, Aus­tralia will feel like they have a hand on the tro­phy. If he doesn’t, it will set up an even big­ger tran­sTas­man clash in the fi­nal.

PHO­TOS: GETTY IM­AGES

Fans flock to Eden Park for last year’s one-day in­ter­na­tional be­tween New Zealand and Aus­tralia. A big crowd is ex­pected again tonight for the T20 match be­tween the two teams.

New Zealand play­ers cel­e­brate as prone Aus­tralian bats­man Josh Ha­zle­wood is run out short of his ground to hand vic­tory to the Black Caps in Auck­land a year ago.

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