McGrath wins another battle
Glenn McGrath's dismissal of Stephen Fleming was the critical moment of play on the fourth day. As the only batsmen capable of consistently batting for long periods and making huge scores, Fleming was New Zealand's chance of being the hero he had hoped - probably prayed - for the previous day.
Fleming's presence at the crease is so reassuring that he gives his more fragile team-mates something to hold on to. During this whistlestop series they have had no driftwood to cling to since Jacob Oram's fine century in the first innings at Brisbane. By conquering Fleming with his off-stump line, McGrath has ensured that Australia should take the Trans-Tasman Trophy as easily as collecting shells.
Usually McGrath publicly targets the highest-profile opposition batsman before a series. It was unusual that he pointed at Nathan Astle this time, leaving Fleming to Shane Warne. Neither got their man over two Tests, but McGrath probably really had his eyes on Fleming. He has nailed him every time since the second innings at Brisbane.
Before this match Fleming had averaged 55.23 in 15 Tests since the Sri Lankan tour in April 2003, scoring two double-centuries and a 192. His potential danger to Australia was comparable with Brian Lara, Michael Vaughan and Michael Atherton, the regulars on McGrath's hit-list, in match-saving situations.
Fleming joined the squad late to recover from illness, and battled to catch up. Michael Kasprowicz dismissed him second ball in his tour's first innings before McGrath took over. Ricky Ponting first bowled Michael Kasprowicz, Warne and Jason Gillespie to Fleming yesterday, and he was well set when McGrath finally arrived at the bowling crease.
Stirred from fielding for so long, McGrath delivered a rising ball slightly above off stump that brushed Fleming's bat, and he was again late in his downswing today. McGrath appealed forcefully to Steve Bucknor, who did nothing as the off bail had been tipped. It was the perfect delivery for Fleming. McGrath had dismissed him for the fifth time, equalling Warne and standing only one behind Javagal Srinath as Fleming's most successful tormentor.
New Zealand were 2 for 18 as their captain walked off, and rain or natural disaster seemed their only saviour. By the time his pads were packed away it was 4 for 34. Fleming must hope Chris Cairns, Chris Harris and Andre Adams fly in this week for the one-day matches with methods to lift a wounded squad. The scheduling meant that the series would always be decided in two weeks, but the ease with which Australia will earn the prize tomorrow will be frustrating for New Zealand. Sadly, Fleming's main achievement has been to earn a wall hook in McGrath's trophy room.
Peter English is Australasian editor of Wisden Cricinfo.