Close finish sets up remainder of series

Lynn McConnell

November 12, 2001

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If this is the way this Test series is going to be played, cricket fans are in for a couple of thrilling Tests in Hobart and Perth.

New Zealand and Australia produced a thriller of a finish out of a match going nowhere at the end of the fourth day.

New Zealand captain Stephen Fleming, having seen his middle-order secure the follow-on target of 287 just before lunch today, threw the challenge down to Australia and Steve Waugh responded.

After four days decimated by rain, the game offered a positive result and no-one could complain of being short-changed by the elongated day's end.

Australia did finish its run of 12 wins at home but showed just why it is such a formidable unit with a great display of cricket in defending that record.

The Australians rattled up 2/84 before Waugh declared his second innings, leaving New Zealand a target of 284.

When the Kiwis ran out of overs at stumps, they were 10 runs short at 6/274, but not before giving the world champions a right royal fright.

The trans-Tasman cousins at one stage were right in line to perform the burglary of them all, but lost the vital wicket of Chris Cairns in the penultimate over to effectively end the chase.

It was a fine display of control by Waugh as his most senior bowlers, Shane Warne and Glenn McGrath took a thumping from Cairns and Craig McMillan. They brought the numbers right into New Zealand's favour as Warne suffered a 17-run over and McGrath a 14-run over.

Warne made way for Brett Lee to bowl the penultimate over, an over in which he claimed Cairns' wicket.

McGrath provided a moment of controversy when bowling several balls of his penultimate over well wide of off stump. By comparison, Lee bowled at pace, and straight, and still managed to achieve the same effect while also picking up a wicket.

New Zealand needed 15 runs off the last over but it never had a chance as Waugh quite rightly set his field back and left no gaps for the New Zealanders to exploit.

New Zealand avoided the temptation to tinker with its batting order for the chase, apart from moving Cairns ahead of McMillan. By getting so close it showed a developing maturity in the New Zealand batting approach as it was a well-measured effort which only ended with Cairns' dismissal with 11 balls remaining.

Mark Richardson showed Australians why he has made such an impact with New Zealand since his entry to Test cricket last year. He scored 57 off 68 balls to give the Kiwis the accelerant they needed at the top of the order.

Some of his driving was sweetly-timed and will have been a big confidence boost for the remainder of the series for him.

He was trapped leg before wicket by Warne and departed with the score on 89. But the brakes were applied by the Australians as they had Mathew Sinclair out stumped by Adam Gilchrist from Warne's bowling for 23. Sinclair, a strokemaker, was unable to get any precision to his batting and it was left to Nathan Astle and Stephen Fleming to resurrect the chase in a 100-run stand off 111 balls.

Astle backed his first innings 66 with 49 while Fleming, facing four consecutive ducks scored an overdue 57 before being run out by some fine fielding from Waugh who threw down the stumps with only one to look at.

Then Cairns made his impact in stunning style with two mammoth sixes off Warne into the upper tier of the stand at the Gabba.

McMillan also took on McGrath, taking a huge six off him.

Australia saw the developing side of the New Zealanders today. Earlier it was the recovery to save the follow on when the loss of Cairns and Astle in quick succession 44 runs and three wickets left might have been the cause for a quick capitulation, they stood firm with Dion Nash superb, especially after Adam Parore departed.

He took control and the last 16 runs fairly rattled onto the scoreboard to see New Zealand to safety.

Nash may be lost to the side, but he provided a graphic demonstration of his talents.

Australia mounted a determined assault to get the breakthrough during the morning session with Lee in outstanding touch to take his fourth five wicket bag and he ended the innings with five for 67.

He got better as the Test progressed and while Jason Gillespie stole the early limelight with his three top order wickets yesterday, it was Lee who shone through at the end. Some of his bowling with the second new ball was outstanding.

McGrath proved more like his usual self in the second innings where his experienced hand came into effect, especially as the pressure went on after Richardson looked like taking control.

While the weather over the first four days made a draw the inevitable result no-one would have guessed that it would get so close to providing a possible victory for New Zealand.

There have been times when cricket relations between the two countries have not been great, but a series played in the sort of style exhibited today will do much for cricket's appeal in both countries.

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