Cricket: Oram to the rescue once again

By Dylan Cleaver

New Zealand escaped last night with victory over Bangladesh in the second one-day international and if captain Daniel Vettori has any sense of decency he'll shout Jacob Oram a beer or three - Kyle Mills too.

Let's not hear about Islamic Bangladesh being a 'dry' country either because for the second time in three days, New Zealand's top order batted like drunks.

They were saved by Oram and a bowling attack that refused to contemplate the notion that they could lose a series to the minnows of world cricket. A much improved fielding performance, there were two run outs, also put the screws on the home side.

Mills was the pick of the bowlers, picking up 3-14 off 6.4 overs, including two vital early wickets.

Oram, who had earlier provided pyrotechnics with the bat, was not far behind Mills, taking 2-23 off eight and snaffled two catches in the outfield to romp home with man-of-the-match honours.

So New Zealand will head to Tuesday's deciding match in decidedly better heart than they were feeling midway through yesterday's match.

Bangladesh captain Ashraful won the toss and inserted New Zealand on a wicket that has traditionally been low and slow. He had obviously seen enough of New Zealand on Thursday to like his chances of an encore performance but even he must have been amazed at how New Zealand's ineptitude on Thursday mirrored itself at Mirpur.

Only Oram, spared them abject embarrassment. His 75 not out from 62 balls, including 25 from the final over, lifted the visitors to 212-9 from their 50 overs.

New Zealand swung from being 31-0 after seven overs to to 45-4 after 14.4; from 86-4 after 27 overs to 115-7 after 33.4.

The highest partnership was the unbroken 10th wicket between Oram and Jeetan Patel which stretched to 45 on the back of the big left-hander's lusty blows.

Fingers should, and will, be pointed at a so-called high-performance programme that saw New Zealand's 'elite' batsman have just one session with national batting coach Mark O'Neill, a technician the players have a lot of respect for, between the end of the England tour and this trip. Bangladesh warmed up against Australia; New Zealand warmed up against an oil-heater.

A washed-out practice match left the team a gallop short and ill-prepared for the subcontinent's holding pitches - once the lacquer wore off the white ball there was a complete absence of pace - but that is where the excuses end.

Jesse Ryder appeared the most sober top-order contributor, stroking a pleasant 30 off 42 before forsaking the face of his bat for a leading edge.

He wouldn't be the last to fall in that fashion.

Questions need to again be asked about whether Jamie How's best position is No 3 in one-day cricket, or whether he's really a one-day player at all. His discomfort during his 16-ball duck was such that Bangladesh felt compelled to sledge him mercilessly. He also achieved the notable feat of making Syed Rasel, a left-arm opener that bowlers neither quickly nor with much movement - look useful.

How's record is decent (ODI average 34.6) but his strike rate of 68.99 is relatively pedestrian and he seems to combine two characteristics that don't work well together in limited-overs cricket: an inability to turn the strike and an ultra-calm demeanour. That means he not only gets bogged down but he remains unflappable in doing so.

There was even mention in the commentary that opposition in Australia recently were more than happy to see How stay at the crease for long periods, knowing there would be a lack of urgency while he was at the crease.

His seven runs off 36 runs for the series does not make him the worst performer - Scott Styris (0) has accumulated just four from 21 balls in two matches - but at No 3 and following two satisfactory if unspectacular starts from Brendon McCullum and Ryder, How has been the catalyst for New Zealand's hideous middle-order collapses.

Styris will be feeling uncomfortable too. With his retirement from test cricket, he will remain acutely aware that he is but a few failures from the international wilderness. He sparred needlessly at a nothing delivery from Mashrafe Mortaza and was brilliantly caught by Siddique at slip. So much for bangladesh being average boosters.

Taylor (33) played a dreadful cut at nude-spinner Shakib Al Hasan and Daniel Flynn (25) was bowled playing a shot of a similar standard.

Taylor's position is safe for some years but Flynn does not yet look the answer in one-day cricket.

The experienced Grant Elliott appeals as a better option and, considering his good series with the bat in England, there seems no logic in the decision to drop him because the medium pace bowling was covered by Ryder and Styris.

It would seem improbable that Elliott will not be given the opportunity to shore up a fragile batting line-up in the decider, either at the expense of Flynn or the unlucky Jeetan Patel.

Bangladesh went with the same team that handed New Zealand that seven-wicket defeat on Thursday.

New Zealand, meanwhile, replaced seamer Mark Gillespie with spinner Patel, a surprise omission on Thursday. The offspinner bowled tidily.

- Herald on Sunday

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