February 17, 2000

New Zealand v Australia, One-day series preview

With recent records such as those of New Zealand and Australia it is not surprising that both sides emerged unbeaten after the first game of the ODI series at Wellington.

New Zealand are fresh from trouncing the West Indies five nil, while Australia won nine in a row against India and Pakistan in the C & U series.

However, Thursday's rain intervened on New Zealand's behalf in the manner of a boxing referee saving a fighter from taking too much punishment.

Australia's strength in depth was underlined with Ricky Ponting's replacement Matt Hayden scoring a vibrant, unbeaten 64 in 68 balls. Ponting's replacement could equally well have been Slater. Or Blewett. Or Langer. Or Law. Or one of a number of others who would be regular choices for most other countries.

In the absence of much action on the field the media and public have found much to entertain them elsewhere. The pre-series war of words has been given extended life.

Former Australian batsman Dean Jones has provoked outrage in New Zealand with his expectation of an Aussie clean sweep and his view that Chris Cairns will buckle under pressure.

New Zealanders are quick to latch onto any insult to the national identity and to dwell upon it to the exclusion of other, more moderate, views. If the perceived abuse comes from their rough hewn neighbours from across the Tasman the offence taken doubles.

The popular perception is that the arrogant Aussies are so confident of victory that they probably spent the prize money at the duty free shops on their way into the country.

Never mind that Steve Waugh (who might be regarded as a more accurate source of the official Australian attitude) has described New Zealand as 'probably the second or third best side around the world at the moment' saying 'we're expecting a tough battle.' His views have gone virtually unreported.

It has also emerged that New Zealand Cricket Chief Executive Chris Doig has had his wrists slapped by the ICC. His offence? To manipulate the regulations to maximise the chances of getting a game of cricket finished.

In the recent ODI series against the West Indies Doig reached agreement that unfinished matches could be carried over into the reserve day. This rule was in place for the World Cup, but does not apply to other ODIs. The ICC have ordered that this deviation should not be repeated in the current series. Doig was previously an opera singer. Years of dealing with temperamental divas might be seen as good preparation for involvement in international cricket administration.

Light relief has been provided by the news that a copy of the Australian game plan was slipped under the wrong hotel room door and subsequently became public knowledge. Most of the dossier was mundane, but the Kiwi press has got mileage from it, helped by an over solemn response from Steve Waugh.

Wellington's rain means that the jury is still out on New Zealand's selection. They omitted Mathew Sinclair whose test average stands at a handy 214 after his debut innings. Sinclair responded to the challenge to show one day form in the Shell Cup but the selectors have taken the confident line of sticking with a winning unit.

Craig McMillan (whose new glasses may attract the odd passing remark from McGrath and company) needs to show form if Sinclair is to stay on the sidelines when the team is reassessed.

The Black Caps are without Dion Nash who has a stress fracture of the back. The West Indians might think that a stress fracture of the tongue would be a more likely diagnosis after the verbals they received from him.

It is commonly thought that the absence of Nash's 'competitiveness' will handicap the Kiwis, but it is one thing to intimidate a disconsolate West Indian team and quite another to upset the Aussies, who are as used to sledging as a pack of huskies. He will certainly be missed as a bowler and as an aggressive batsman who keeps a calm head in a close finish.

Debutant Warren Wisneski played at Wellington ahead of Simon Doull. Wisneski was unimpressive but deserves a second chance on his thirty first birthday on Saturday.

Dean Jones is right to pick out Cairns as the key man. He presently has claim to be recognised as the world's leading all rounder. In recent months he has reminded this observer of Ian Botham in his pomp, and there is no higher praise. New Zealanders do not doubt the ability of Cairns, but worry about his fitness. Should he not last the full course the Australian task will be much easier.

The second game will be played in Auckland on Saturday. It faces an uneven struggle for attention with the opening race in New Zealand's America's Cup defence. So many spectator craft are expected around the Auckland waterfront that it may be possible to walk across to the North Shore without using the Harbour Bridge.

The visitors go into the series without warm up matches but the truncated Wellington game seemed to give the lie to the view that they will take time to adjust to the traditional slow, low Kiwi track.

Australia to win what is now a five match series by four games to one.