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Australia's third tour of New Zealand under Allan Border did not, at least, end in defeat like the previous two; but nor did the Australians exact revenge for previous frustrations, although New Zealand were a weaker side than they had been when the countries had last met in a Test series three years earlier. New Zealand were not even competitive in the First Test, which they lost by a gaping margin, but played with characteristic resolve thereafter to level the series 1-1 and maintain their 16-year unbeaten record at home against their nearest and keenest cricketing rivals. Border's consolation was strictly personal: he eclipsed Sunil Gavaskar's record to become Test cricket's leading run-scorer. Australia's consolation was a 3-2 scoreline in an exciting one-day tournament, which played to packed houses as it worked its way up the country.
New Zealand's fortunes revived after the defeat by an innings and 60 runs in Christchurch, despite several notable deficiencies in their team, which had just lost three Tests in succession - to Sri Lanka, Pakistan and Australia. The home side did not field a specialist sixth batsman throughout the series, instead relying, in turn, on a bowling all-rounder (CaiHarris) to fill that post. Nor did they have an effective spin bowler until the final Australian innings of the series, when Martin Crowe invoked the spirit of New Zealand's World Cup campaign and gave Patel the new ball, unorthodox tactics that met with immediate success. This was, remarkably enough, New Zealand's first series against Australia that did not feature Richard Hadlee (although Hadlee did not play in the one-off Tests in Wellington in 1945-46 and 1989-90). And their situation looked particularly precarious when, during the anguished soul-searching that followed the loss in Christchurch, Crowe publicly invited the selectors to replace him as captain if they deemed it in the best interests of New Zealand cricket. The offer was declined. Then, after an honourable draw in Wellington, New Zealand's five-wicket win in Auckland struck a chord with the public. An estimated 8,000 turned up to Eden Park when the gates were thrown open on the last day of the series to watch New Zealand make the 33 runs needed to square the rubber and retain the Trans-Tasman trophy.
For the second time in the southern summer, Australia could blame their batting for allowing a series to slip. By the end of the Third Test, Australia had gone five matches without producing a century-maker. The sense of retarded progress was emphasised by the presence of Border, who batted at No. 6, at the top of the list of Australian averages and aggregates, Steve Waugh being the only other Australian to average more than 40. Merv Hughes came third in the averages. By the Third Test, Mark Waugh had been dropped, the culmination of two years of wasted opportunities, while Justin Langer completed a lean series in the No. 3 position with a pair at Auckland. The series' only century came from Ken Rutherford, appropriately enough, because the strokemaker from Otago was the outstanding batsman on either side, making 298 runs at 59.60 and continuing the courageous resurrection of a career almost sacrificed in the Caribbean in his teens. John Wright was the only other man to top 200 runs and, just as important for New Zealand, his average occupation of the crease was three and a quarter hours. He announced his retirement after the Third Test, when the technological age finally caught up with him - his 148th and last Test innings ended with the third umpire flashing a red light from the stand to signal that his 38-year-old legs had failed by a fraction to complete a single in time. Tony Blain, who returned to Test cricket at the age of 31 when Parore was injured, batted resolutely at important stages of the Second and Third Tests and kept wicket impressively, making him the find of the series for New Zealand.
The five-match one-day series was also keenly contested, and settled in Australia's favour only in the final game. Their batsmen, and Mark Waugh in particular, seemed to revel in the greater licence permitted to them; Waugh averaged over 60 when promoted to open, a move previously ruled out by team management.
The cricket throughout the tour was engaging, not for any sustained excellence, but for the intensity of the struggle. The man who did more than any other to entertain was Shane Warne, who somehow managed to combine that quality with a consistency not matched by any other player. After helping bowl Australia to victory in the Christchurch Test, he was unfortunate not to have more time in Wellington or more runs to defend in Auckland. His 17 wickets at 15.05 broke Dennis Lillee's record of 15 for the most by an Australian on a Test tour of New Zealand and equalled Craig McDermott's record for Australia against New Zealand in either country. Incredibly for a wrist-spinner, he conceded an average of only 1.61 runs per over. Danny Morrison, after a wayward start in Christchurch, fuelled New Zealand's comeback, taking career-best figures in Wellington and also finishing the series with 17 wickets; by the end of the Third Test he was a more menacing proposition than either of Australia's opening pair, McDermott, who was hampered by a hernia problem, and Hughes, each of whom took 13 wickets.
If Hughes appeared to breach the code of conduct during his altercation with Mark Greatmatch in the Third Test, ICC referee Javed Burki was unconcerned, saying that you can enforce the code so strictly that you take all the fun out of the game. Overall, the series was played in an excellent spirit. Border walked at a crucial stage in the last Test, and Crowe reciprocated in the first one-day international, out of respect for the Australians.
A. R. Border (Queensland) (captain), M. A. Taylor (New South Wales) (vice-captain), D. C. Boon (Tasmania), I. A. Healy (Queensland), M. G. Hughes (Victoria), J. L. Langer (Western Australia), D. R. Martyn (Western Australia), T. B. A. May (South Australia), C. J. McDermott (Queensland), P. R. Reiffel (Victoria), S. K. Warne (Victoria), M. E. Waugh (New South Wales), S. R. Waugh (New South Wales).
A. I. C. Dodemaide and D. M. Jones (both Victoria) replaced Langer and McDermott for the one-day international series.
Manager: I. H. McDonald. Coach: R. B. Simpson.
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