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September 12, 2000
Pay-off time has arrived for the Black Caps who start their Test summer in Zimbabwe today.
Since the upheavals endured by New Zealand Cricket in 1994/95, including a re-shaping of the game's national administration and a re-direction for the national men's team, more than a little heartache has been endured by cricket followers in New Zealand.
They went through the teething problems as discipline was instilled into what was a talented but ill-directed side, through a controversial change of coach from New Zealand icon Glenn Turner to Australian hard-nut Steve Rixon, and the waiting is over.
Slowly but surely a new-look side has emerged. It has taken a semi-final place in the 1999 World Cup. It has beaten England 2-1 in a series in England. It has thrashed the West Indies and it got itself into positions of strength against Australia in New Zealand summer.
That the side did not push on was seen as the next hurdle in the way of development.
Now resting in mid-table on most of the Test rankings systems around the world, New Zealand should be in a position to enforce its will on Zimbabwe.
All the talk about how hard the Zimbabweans are to beat at home is paying the opposition due respect. But this is a better New Zealand team than that which struggled to draw the last series in Zimbabwe in 1997.
It has shown already in Africa that it is starting to get the sort of performances together individually that will be needed to knit the side into a competitive unit for the summer's biggest challenge, the forthcoming series against South Africa.
The absence of Neil Johnson and Murray Goodwin is a big body blow for the home side.
With Chris Cairns now a genuine world-class all-rounder, Shayne O'Connor looking a more destructive opening bowler and the sheer ability of left-arm orthodox spinner Daniel Vettori, New Zealand has the bowling firepower.
That's not to discount off-spinner Paul Wiseman who looks to be set for some long spells of bowling in this test.
While all the talk is about bowling the opposition out twice, New Zealand could also help its case by putting together some big scores by individual batsmen.
Mark Richardson's triple century in the last warm-up game for the Test offers hope that the open sore, which has bled the top off the New Zealand innings since John Wright and Trevor Franklin were parted in 1990, may be healed for the side's benefit.
No 3 Mathew Sinclair needs to show he's regained his batting confidence while Stephen Fleming, Nathan Astle and Craig McMillan could all do with some big scores through the middle order.
That would leave Cairns and Adam Parore with the rare and highly enticing prospect of being able to go out to bat and chase runs rather than to have to shore up the defences after a collapse.
New Zealand has little cause to be arrogant about its prospects; it has not produced the consistency that would merit such an attitude.
But it does need to show that when it gets a chance, it can be merciless in its quest for victory.
Then some of the pains of the past may be relieved for long-suffering supporters.
Why does the man who is possibly England's greatest fast bowler occasionally turn into Mr Hyde on the field?