September 17, 2000

Kiwi cricketers produce last day gold medal effort

Too often in New Zealand's cricket history sides have got themselves into winning positions only to fail ram the advantage home.

But increasingly, the side of the moment is showing it has learned that lesson.

The win over Zimbabwe in Bulawayo, New Zealand's 45th Test win, was impressive for the way the side appreciated it had let the advantage slip when Zimbabwe reached 350.

It used to be that a score of 350 was regarded as a safe haven in a Test match, especially when scored as slowly as Zimbabwe managed.

But that safety is entirely dependent on producing a second innings of quality. Clearly Zimbabwe didn't.

New Zealand, having lost some momentum in its batting when the middle order was not given the chance to score as freely as it might have wanted (especially after Nathan Astle's appalling dismissal), recovered through the strength in its tail.

Then the superb fightback with the ball, possibly one of the most consistent characteristics New Zealand has shown throughout its Test victories, set up another chance.

With five wickets required going into the last day, it could have been a difficult task.

But Chris Cairns took matters into his own hands with his 10th five wicket bag in Test matches. Again, it was another attribute of successful Test match cricket that was borne out. Once making the breakthrough it is absolutely essential that the tail order be polished off quickly.

Cairns achieved that and the win was never in doubt.

The manner of the victory highlighted several features of this side's development. Last summer at home against Australia, New Zealand created chances to stretch the Australians, but on every occasion failed to make the most of them. This victory offers hope that lesson has been learned.

Disappointing as Daniel Vettori's back injury is, and hopefully it is only a short-term problem, the development of off-spinner Paul Wiseman has gone another stage and he is clearly a credible spin alternative.

Mathew Sinclair's patient effort in opening the second innings and containing a natural inclination to attack, suggests the work he put in over the New Zealand winter has been productive. He more than most needed a good series in Zimbabwe and the responsibility he showed suggests more big scores are not too far away.

His six over the Bulawayo pavilion was a stunner, and more than a hint of what talent is waiting to be unleashed.

In many ways the match was similar to the first Test against the West Indies in Hamilton last summer. Having disappointed on the first day, the New Zealanders regained the initiative and never let the West Indies back in.

The same has happened here and with a series against the much tougher South Africans in two months time, New Zealand has gained a significant confidence boost.