December 1, 2001

Australians come to be seen and conquered at the WACA

Australia's cricketers came to the WACA Ground in Perth anticipating early wickets, saw a few deliveries promptly beat the bat, yet left it conquered by a phenomenal partnership between two cool, calculating and experienced New Zealand right handers on the second day of the Third Test today.

Just one loss away from potentially handing over their billing as cricket's top Test team, the Australians were put to the sword by an extraordinary exhibition of brow-beating authority from Nathan Astle (156*) and Adam Parore (110). They had snaffled five wickets in less than two hours in a dramatic closing session yesterday, but the home team's bowlers went wicketless for all of five hours today as the Test was transformed from an evenly-tilted game overnight to one blessed by New Zealand dominance.

By stumps, the Australians were at 2/75 in response to a massive total of 9/534 - a position that now leaves them potentially exposed to surrendering their number one status on the International Cricket Council Test Championship table to South Africa.

The New Zealanders have been followed across the land by suggestions that the 0-0 series scoreline that they brought into this match had been based on considerable luck with poor weather. But they set about making all of their own luck today, with an incredible partnership that left statisticians buried underneath a quire of shredded pages from the record books.

At the day's outset, the Black Caps' score was 7/293. At lunch, it was 7/363. At tea, it was 7/467. And, when captain Stephen Fleming played executioner to mercifully terminate the torment of the Australian fieldsmen an hour after tea, it had swelled to a monumental 9/534.

At the core of it all was the astonishing liaison of 253 runs between Astle and Parore that left theirs as the second-highest eighth wicket partnership in the history of Test cricket. Duly, it was also New Zealand's best-ever stand against Australia for any wicket, and it also became the country's new high watermark for partnerships for the eighth wicket against all opponents.

Old marks, not to mention the bowling figures, were being re-arranged about as quickly as many of Astle's cover drives and cuts - and Parore's pulls, slog-sweeps and glances - were racing into and over the boundary ropes.

The approach had been one of unstinting patience initially, and Jason Gillespie (3/112) put more than one ball past the outside edge of the bat.

But caution quickly gave way to command after the pair had weathered the sustained 13 over burst from Gillespie and Glenn McGrath (1/72) as play began.

Sagacious defence was mixed with daring attack as Australia found itself heading increasingly toward desperation point. Most of its bowlers tried changing the angle of their line, consistently toying with the idea of going around the wicket. Their field settings were persistently rotated too. And then, half an hour before tea, captain Steve Waugh resorted to the prospect of turning to the part-time bowling options of Damien Martyn (0/44) and Mark Waugh (0/26).

But, until the moment that Parore eventually fell to a top edged hook at Brett Lee (4/125), the batting was simply too good.

A majestically off driven boundary from Astle off McGrath in mid-afternoon, and a belligerent Parore pull to the square leg boundary from Shane Warne (1/135) after tea, carved further niches in history for the Kiwis. The strokes defined the innings as the first in their nation's history that had yielded four individual centuries - even the feat of three or more batsmen reaching the landmark in the same innings having occurred only twice previously.

The total itself was the fifth best plundered from an Australian attack in a period that stretches all the way back to 1992-93.

No doubt shattered by the whole experience, Matthew Hayden (0) was rapidly squared up by Shane Bond (1/21) and edged a low catch to gully as the reply began. Even more trouble arrived when an aggressive Ricky Ponting (31) lost concentration to outside edge a drive at Chris Martin (1/21).

Admittedly, the New Zealanders' mammoth score was amassed on a pitch that continues to offer little assistance to the bowlers. And the fact that a number of their strokes enjoyed an unimpeded passage to the boundary owed a considerable deal to a blindingly fast outfield.

The tourists' achievements with the bat will therefore be better set in context the further their opponent's innings unfolds.

Whatever comes, whatever is seen over the next three days, though, this is a day which will forever command a high place amid New Zealand cricketing folklore. Of that, there is no doubt.