By Niall Anderson at Lord's
The Black Caps had Australia cornered - wobbling, ducking, and desperately looking for a way out.
Not only did they find their escape, they then managed to turn the tables, and pummel New Zealand into submission.
A 107-run sixth wicket partnership started the Australian revival, before a limp New Zealand batting performance consigned the Black Caps to an 86-run defeat at Lord's – a result which doesn't inspire positivity for their Cricket World Cup chances.
It's unlikely to seriously impact their prospects of making the semifinals, but, with a semifinal showdown against Australia still the Black Caps' most likely outcome, you have to wonder – if they can't beat Australia after routing their top order, then when can they do it?
Frankly, the Black Caps' bowling performance deserved a much better result.
Trent Boult took the headlines with New Zealand's first World Cup hat-trick, and although Boult also started proceedings with the wicket of Aaron Finch, it was Lockie Ferguson who made the pivotal inroads.
Ferguson first removed David Warner with a stellar short ball, rasping off the Australian opener's gloves through to Tom Latham, before he set a trap to remove Steve Smith. In fairness, the trap only worked because of a moment of magic – with Smith flaying a pull shot, but Martin Guptill, who had put down two tough chances earlier, flying to his left at leg gully and taking the catch of the Cup.
With Colin de Grandhomme (8-1-29-0) tying down an end after being handed the new ball for the first time in his ODI career, it put the pressure on at the other end, and there was no let-up as Jimmy Neesham struck.
A perfect cross-seam delivery saw the end of Marcus Stoinis, caught behind, before Neesham tried to one-up Guptill in his next over, taking a superb one-handed return catch after Glenn Maxwell mistimed a pull shot off the toe end of the bat.
At 92-5, Australia were in serious trouble, but a 107-run partnership between Usman Khawaja and Alex Carey salvaged their chances.
Khawaja – dropped by Guptill second ball and offering several chances later in his innings - took his time, compiling his innings largely in singles, while Carey played an aggressive knock. Reminiscent of Michael Bevan, he smacked 11 fours as part of 71 from 72 balls, with his contribution especially vital considering he was Australia's last recognised batsman.
Their stand was eventually ended by Kane Williamson, who surprisingly bowled seven overs, taking 1-25, and preferring himself to Mitchell Santner (3-0-23-0) and the added Ish Sodhi, who was slightly unlucky in his figures of 6-0-35-0.
It was a quality partnership to guide Australia to a competitive score, eventually overshadowing Boult's incredible final over. Three inch-perfect yorkers saw Khawaja (bowled), Mitchell Starc (bowled) and Jason Behrendorff (lbw) head back to the pavilion in consecutive deliveries, as Boult earned his second ODI hat-trick, becoming just the tenth player in World Cup history to accomplish the feat.
A feat the Black Caps batsmen couldn't do justice.
The new opening pairing of Guptill and Henry Nicholls – promoted in place of Colin Munro – showed more fight, but neither could produce an innings of substance. Nicholls was strangled down the legside after compiling eight from 20 balls, while Guptill was trapped lbw for 20 from 43. It was slow going, and that didn't change on the arrival of Williamson and Ross Taylor, with the Black Caps limping to 61-2 after 20 overs.
The plan was clearly to keep wickets in hand to accelerate later in the innings, but it simply never came. Williamson was dropped twice on his way to 40, but Australia didn't miss their third chance, as a nibble from a Starc delivery was snaffled by Carey.
Williamson looked to the sky in exasperation – the same place Taylor and de Grandhomme were about to see their knocks come to an end. Taylor (30 from 54 balls) sent a hook shot a mile high, Carey taking it after a seemingly eternal wait, before de Grandhomme tried to bash Smith over long-off on his first ball, but only found a gleeful Khawaja on the rope.
Smith got his sweet revenge for his dismissal shortly after, producing a stellar right-handed diving grab at short mid-wicket to get rid of Latham, and from there, the Black Caps sunk - having imploded from 97-2 to 157 all out.
The eventually hefty margin of defeat makes the Black Caps slightly more vulnerable on net run rate – though Pakistan and Bangladesh will still need a significant turnaround to challenge them – but of more concern will be the batting performance.
Because, even if the Black Caps make the final four, they're going to need serious improvements to go any further.
The Alternative Commentary Collective are podcasting their way through the World Cup. Known for their unconventional sports analysis and off-kilter banter, the ACC have come to ask the tough questions. Here's the latest episode of 'The Agenda':
WARNING: GRAPHIC CONTENT