November 26, 2001

Perth Test to assume decider status

The Perth Test, which begins on Friday, will be the decider in the three-match series between Australia and New Zealand, after rain again hit Hobart to ensure that the Second Test ended in a frustrating draw today.

The rain gods had already wiped out around ten hours of play in the match but still weren't satisfied with their work, duly venting their anger to eliminate all but 86 minutes of action on its fifth and final day. There was less cricket today than on any of the four days which preceded it.

In such cricket as could be squeezed in, New Zealand's batsmen had continued their battle to try and ward off Australia's bowlers, albeit without a great degree of success. In the main, it was pacemen Jason Gillespie (3/45) and Glenn McGrath (2/46) who confounded them, each exhibiting methodical control as they set about removing arguably the tourists' three finest batsmen. It left the New Zealanders at the ultimately rather irrelevant score of 7/243 as they responded to the somewhat distant memory represented by Australia's total of 8/558.

"It's just the way it goes. It's unlucky, but it's just the luck of the draw," said Australian captain, Steve Waugh, after an official abandonment had been made at 3:08pm.

"It's certainly bad luck for everyone, because we played some pretty good cricket. I thought today was the best day that our bowlers have bowled for a long time; if they continue that, then we're going to be very hard to beat. I thought it was superb.

"There was a bit in the wicket, but the bowling was top class.

"We were keen to get a result any way we could. It worked out that we had to try and take 16 wickets so that was a lot. But I really believe, (even) if we'd had a full day today, we were a chance of achieving that," he enthused.

As it was, his opposite number Stephen Fleming (71) fell to the very first delivery of the day, the victim of an interminably delayed lbw decision as he padded up to McGrath. Maybe it was the mass of grey clouds behind the bowler's arm that helped to distract him but, whatever the reason, Fleming had misjudged the line as the Australian spearhead came around the wicket to cut one back in from outside the line of off stump.

Stopwatches conservatively put the length of the time needed by umpire Steve Bucknor to form his decision at around seven seconds. Fleming's walk to the gate, after an innings in which he was unable to convert a half-century into a century for the 31st time in Tests, rivalled it for speed.

Craig McMillan (55) was similarly content to continue leaving most deliveries bowled to him as well. Unlike his captain, though, the practice didn't land him in trouble until much later in the morning. His error came after a patient 209-minute stay during which he had generally shown excellent knowledge of where his off stump was; fatally, he had not counted on the prospect of Gillespie cutting a ball significantly back in off the seam to take a mixture of off and middle.

Chris Cairns (20) played a restless innings, slamming his first delivery imperiously through the covers and then serially attempting to increase his score with a mixture of aggressively-executed vertical and horizontal bat strokes. It was a spectacular exhibition that came to be ended by an equally spectacular catch when wicketkeeper Adam Gilchrist launched himself horizontally to his right to intercept a thick outside edge at McGrath.

The position might have been even worse for the tourists if umpire John Smeaton had upheld a confident appeal for a gloved catch down the leg side as Adam Parore (10*) fended off the line of hip at Gillespie before he had scored. But that was denied; the Australians were unable to shift Daniel Vettori (10*) either; and then the heavens unleashed their fury upon the second-driest capital city in Australia to honour the rain dance that could well have been going on in the New Zealand dressing rooms.

"We have to be," said Fleming, when questioned whether his team was content with the outcome.

"Particularly in this game: we were always behind the eight ball. To get out with a draw ... we're happy.

"If we want to compete in a Test match, we have to be there or thereabouts at the end of day one. Otherwise, we're just chasing. Up against a very good side, it's very rare that you can then get them on the run."

Their countrymen from Crowded House would be proud of them, for the Black Caps are truly taking one form of weather with them almost wherever they go on this trip. Now they head, with the series artistically still deadlocked at 0-0, for Perth.