November 8, 2001

New Zealand bowlers prove surprise package on first day

What was shaping as a nightmare day for New Zealand cricket in the first Test at the Gabba in Brisbane turned around on the control of Chris Cairns, and the belligerence of bullocky part-timer Craig McMillan.

New Zealand was shaping up to confirm all the worst held fears of Australian critics that they wouldn't be able to foot it with the world champions, especially when the score was 0/224, an Australian opening record in Tests against New Zealand.

It was a situation that occurred because of the outstanding batting of Matthew Hayden (136), who made light of any perceived difficulties expected of a pitch looking to have a higher than usual moisture content, and due to New Zealand's attack being in the hands of four bowlers returning from injury, which was how they looked.

But a last session collapse which, at one stage, saw six wickets fall for 39 runs gave New Zealand captain Stephen Fleming some reward for his decision to bowl first after winning the toss.

He still had to see the back of Adam Gilchrist before he could reflect the damage had been really done. And by stumps Australia had recovered to 6/294.

How much different things might have been had Justin Langer been given out leg before wicket in the first over of the day when trapped by Cairns on his back leg in front of middle wicket.

However, it was to be the end of the day before any turnaround occurred for the New Zealanders and by that time Hayden and Langer had cashed in big time. The significance of their effort was all the more apparent by day's end.

Matthew Hayden was in outstanding touch and while he was at the crease there was no respite for the New Zealand bowlers.

From the outset he pulled the ball with impunity, producing a clarity of timing in his strokeplay which, as his innings progressed, was moved to his driving, both straight and through the off side.

The first session assault mounted by Hayden put the lie to the notion there would be something in the pitch for the New Zealand bowlers. Although they did nothing to help themselves by being too free with wide balls that did not provide any concerns for the batsmen.

And with the balls too short, or full, Hayden was waiting to punish them severely. He brought up his 50 off 54 balls and then when New Zealand captain Stephen Fleming introduced left-arm spinner Daniel Vettori, Hayden showed who was boss from the first ball, putting over the bowler's head for six runs.

For New Zealanders, the game had many similarities with their first Test victory over the West Indies at Hamilton two summers ago when the West Indian openers put on 276 on the first day and were 1/282 at stumps, only to be all out for 365, and eventually soundly beaten. Cairns was the destroyer on that occasion, but he had much more support this time around.

While he went to lunch at 71, Hayden was forced to work much harder for his runs after the break for the first hour as the bowlers found much more consistent accuracy to yield only 31 runs in the first hour.

Hayden added only 16 runs in that hour but the break was sufficient to see him rejuvenated and he was severe on Dion Nash to race towards his century which came up with a lovely off driven four from Vettori. He took 138 balls and hit 15 fours and a six.

Langer, by comparison, had to struggle for all he was worth. But in his case perseverance paid off and although there were not the dramatic shots that Hayden played, there was grit and after 294 minutes he had his reward.

His ninth Test century, the second in successive innings, scored off 217 balls, ended when he became Craig McMillan's third victim, caught in the deep, at backward square leg by Vettori for 106 to leave New Zealand 6/263.

The nature of the collapse was notable not for any blistering bowling, rather from the traditional New Zealand medium pace of Nathan Astle, who got a leg before wicket decision against Mark Waugh before he had scored, and Craig McMillan whose jaunty belligerence netted him three wickets for five runs at one stage, with the wickets of Steve Waugh, Damien Martyn and Justin Langer.

Chris Cairns worked in tandem with Astle and gained the initial breakthrough by claiming Hayden's wicket and then adding Ricky Ponting.

The test for New Zealand is to polish off the threat posed by Adam Gilchrist when play resumes tomorrow.