First Test Match

Australia v New Zealand

At Brisbane, November 7, 8, 9, 10, 11. Australia won by 186 runs. Toss: New Zealand. Test debut: C. D. McMillan.

Mark Taylor, carried by his successful team for most of 1997, repaid them with a first-innings century that kept Australia in the match against an unexpectedly competitive New Zealand. Caught by surprise, the Australians just held their ground for four days before the young visitors, mentally spent, capitulated to McGrath and Warne on the fifth morning.

Persistent rain had kept the pitch covered for two days beforehand, and the customary Gabba greenness offered a disproportionate advantage to the team bowling first. Doull and Allott failed to control the new ball, but the arrival of the bristling Cairns in the ninth over enlivened the match. In his first nine overs, Cairns dismissed Elliott, Blewett and the Waugh twins. Australia were 52 for four.

After innings defeats by Queensland and New South Wales, the New Zealanders had predicted that the Test-match atmosphere would lift them. They bowled and fielded with unremitting hostility - while the Australians appeared disengaged, as if needing a shock to raise their competitive hackles.

It fell to Taylor and Healy to retrieve the position with a 117-run partnership. The ironies were plain. Taylor's batting had been so poor for a year that only his strategic role in the team had saved his place. Now, his batting was saving his team from significant embarrassment. At the other end was Healy, who had been vice-captain until Steve Waugh, the ACB's preferred alternative captain, replaced him in case Taylor had been forced to step down on the Ashes tour. Renascent all-rounder Reiffel then scored a Test-best 77, and helped take the total to 373. In reply, Pocock and Fleming grafted for nearly three hours until Pocock pressed forward to a Warne leg-break and edged to Taylor at slip.

New Zealand continued to defy expectations on the third day. Fleming, having reached his 16th Test fifty, was moving smoothly towards only his second Test hundred when Kasprowicz held one up off the pitch and trapped him in front. Undeterred, Cairns and debutant Craig McMillan recorded steady fifties. Warne, on-driven for six by McMillan, ground away for 42 overs and eventually choked back the challenge. When Taylor caught Parore, it was his 39th catch from Warne's bowling in 57 Tests, equalling the Test record for a fielder-bowler combination: c Sobers b Gibbs. Taylor and Warne became the sole record-holders in the second innings.

New Zealand's 349 maintained parity. On the fourth day, they again glimpsed victory when Australia were 105 for four. Mark Waugh recorded another failure after his barren England tour; the extent of New Zealand's cheek was revealed by microphones which picked up Parore murmuring: "It's tough out here, isn't it, Mark?" But Blewett and Ponting enabled Australia to set a target of 319. It took a single delivery on the final morning to start the collapse. Reiffel produced a kicker to find Pocock's edge, Warne increased the pressure, and McGrath moved in for the clean-up, taking five for 32 despite an abdominal strain which would keep him out until after Christmas.

New Zealand's aggressive approach to the first four days, standing toe-to-toe with the world's most feared Test team, turned out to have exhausted them by the fifth. They had miscalculated by playing Harris as a No. 8 who hardly bowled, and their top-order crisis would only be resolved by promoting the stubborn, correct Parore to No. 3. They had played a good Test match, catching a complacent Australia at their most vulnerable. Still, Australia won, and New Zealand had missed their best chance of an upset.

Man of the Match: M. A. Taylor. Attendance: 30,193.

Close of play: First day, Australia 269-6 (I. A. Healy 62*, P. R. Reiffel 23*); Second day, New Zealand 134-3 (S. P. Fleming 49*, D. L. Vettori 0*); Third day, Australia 25-1 (M. T. G. Elliot 7*, I. A. Healy 1*); Fourth day, New Zealand 4-0 (B. A. Pocock 3*, B. A. Young 0*).

© John Wisden & Co