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New Zealand cricket has known no greater occasion than March 13, 1974 when a Test against Australia was won for the first time at the sixth time of asking.
It was particularly gratifying for the New Zealanders for two reasons. They had fought out a drawn series with the West Indies in 1972, had twice come very close to victory against England in 1973, and at Sydney, only a few weeks earlier, had been robbed by rain of an almost certain and substantial success. So the win at Lancaster Park was the fruit of long endeavour.
The second cause for pride was that New Zealand won at Christchurch absolutely on their merits. It was a game of sustained excitement, played on a pitch which scarcely varied throughout the five days; in almost every session, the initiative changed hands dramatically.
New Zealand owed their five-wicket victory largely to G.M. Turner, who became the first New Zealander to score separate centuries in a Test Match. There was also some good, aggressive bowling by the New Zealand seamers on a strip which always yielded some movement and a brisk but even bounce.
This was New Zealand's first Test win since Pakistan were defeated at Lahore in 1969 -- a success which led to New Zealand's only Test rubber victory. It underlined the progress New Zealand cricket has made.
In their first 44 tests, over 26 years there was not a single success. In the last 18 years there have been eight wins in 70 matches -- a modest record, but clearly an improving one. The defeat of Australia left only England who have not yet been beaten by New Zealand.
New Zealand cricketers are seldom over-confident, but they felt they had a chance in their home series, even after the loss of the rubber in Australia. They were humbled in the final Test and the series was left drawn, with sharp contrasts in the pitches, and the turn of events, in each of the games. At Wellington, it was purgatory for bowlers and this most placid of pitches yielded 1455 runs for 24 wickets.
The pitch produced at Lancaster Park for the Second Test was the best at this ground for many years. There was a proper balance between bat and ball and an enthralling game resulted. At Auckland, where Australia won by a wide margin, the pitch was wet at the start and the Australians had the game as good as won by the close of the first day.
There were crowds of more than 30,000 on both Saturday and Sunday at Auckland, New Zealand records, and interest in the tour was reflected in the New Zealand Cricket Council showing a profit of $33,000 on the year's working.
A.P. Sheahan was not available for the Australian tour. Otherwise Australia were at full strength and the team played much highly attractive cricket. The batting of G.S. Chappell, his brother and captain I.M. Chappell, K.D. Walters and I.R. Redpath was masterful on occasion, but even among these most successful of the Australian batsmen, there was strange inconsistency. Redpath was the most reliable; I.M. Chappell faded in the second half of the tour; G.S. Chappell scored 380 of his 592 runs in one match, and two not out centuries bolstered Walters' return.
There were other disappointments. K.R. Stackpole had a miserable tour and he announced his retirement after his return to Australia. A.J. Woodcock did little of note and the highly promising young I.C. Davis often paid the penalty for his over-eagerness to score quickly. Maturity will almost certainly make Davis a regular member of the Australian side.
The Australian bowling was always reliable, and there was much admiration in particular for the skill and stamina of M.H.N. Walker; G. Dymock was often lively and another fast-medium left-hander, G.J. Gilmour, enjoyed a very good tour, with a particularly telling performance in the final Test.
A.A. Mallett was the top wicket-taker, but K.J. O'Keeffe had fewer chances: he did not bowl a ball in the Christchurch Test. The other spinner, a young left-hander, R.J. Bright, was steady and orthodox in method, but his opportunities were limited on a short tour.
If the Australian batting was surprisingly vulnerable, the New Zealand batsmen failed miserably after scoring heavily in the first Test. The exception was Turner, who always looked a class better than his colleagues and whose Test average exceeded 100.
In the last two Tests, J.M. Parker totalled only 89, J.F.M. Morrison 21, B.E. Congdon 18 and M.G. Burgess, brought out of retirement somewhat unwillingly, failed in his only Test.
The New Zealand seam attack commanded respect. R.O. Collinge did best, but at times both R.J. Hadlee and D.R. Hadlee bowled particularly well. Congdon played a very valuable part.
If the tour was a financial success and provided New Zealand crowds with some splendid entertainment, it was not without its flaws. The level of crowd behaviour was not always high, and there was some trouble in the Christchurch Test with intoxicated spectators. There was a sour note in the way the rain-ruined match with Otago was played at Dunedin, but both sides contributed to that.
And there was a highly unsavoury incident in the Christchurch Test. Late on the fourth day, B.F. Hastings hit a 4. It was signalled as a 6 by Mr. R. Monteith. The non-striker, Turner, told Mr. Monteith that the ball had bounced over the line, but before a correcting signal could be made, Ian Chappell ran up from his slip position.
Turner began, he claimed, to assure Chappell that the error was to be corrected, but he alleged that Chappell then addressed him in forceful language. Turner and several of the New Zealand players asked, through their captain Congdon, for an apology. Chappell said he would not apologise and that what happened on the field of play ended there.
In the main, however, there will be happy memories of the tour, and especially of the Chappell brothers in full cry during the first Test, where they became the first of a family to score two centuries each, in a Test.
The Australians were managed by the amiable and popular Mr. Frank Bryant, whose visit to New Zealand was his third in charge of Australian teams.
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