Third Test


Toss: Australia.

Australia spent most of this engrossing Test trying to wriggle their way out of trouble after a calamitous opening day. Indeed, they almost wriggled into a winning position, setting New Zealand a thorny target of 201 on a bowlers' pitch. That the home side made the runs with five wickets to spare, and without succumbing to the tension of the occasion, was a measure of their improvement through the series.

Border's decision to bat looked reasonable after an uneventful first hour, but then the clouds enclosed Eden Park and the game underwent a personality change. New Zealand had learned the lessons of Christchurch and dismissed Australia for 139 in conditions conducive to swing and seam bowling. Morrison's lethal fast out-swingers brought him six for 37. This included his 100th Test wicket when he had Healy caught in the gully - though Border, his 99th, was given out caught behind to a delivery that clipped his off stump without removing the bails, the first of several decisions from umpire King that upset the Australians. Morrison became the eighth New Zealander to pass the milestone, in his 29th Test. New Zealand also benefited from the influence of the canny Watson; Martyn, who had replaced Mark Waugh, did well to get an edge to a Watson leg-cutter.

The impression that Eden Park was a swing bowler's paradise was reinforced next day by Steve Waugh, whose potent out-swinger had Crowe caught at first slip attempting to turn the ball to leg. Unfortunately, that resulted in Border holding back Warne - other than a maiden before lunch - until the last hour of the day, when New Zealand led by 39. Once again Warne changed a game's direction, taking four wickets for eight from 15 overs. Collectively the New Zealand batsmen had struck their best form of the series, but had little to show for it: the top five reached 20, but none passed Rutherford's 43, which ended when he danced recklessly down the pitch to Warne's second delivery.

In a bid to swing the delicately balanced series, Crowe tossed the new ball to his off-spinner, Patel. Crowe spoke later of the eerie feeling this created in the opposition, and certainly Australia appeared slightly spooked: Taylor was stumped in Patel's first over and Langer lbw in his second, neither offering a shot. Martyn responded with an aristocratic 74, dropping down on one knee to slap the bowling about. Boon made only 29 of their 107-run partnership before Martyn fell to Greatbatch's acrobatic catch at silly mid-off. But it still took determined contributions from Border and Hughes to scrape together the lead of 200 Australia thought they needed.

The series reached a climax with the heavyweight clash between Hughes and the New Zealand opener Greatbatch, who came out swinging like cowboys in a bar-room brawl. Hughes was affronted by Greatbatch's tactic of charging the bowling and the pair exchanged heated words, brushed chests and Hughes once spat on the ground in Greatbatch's direction. Greatbatch's most extraordinary shot came at the expense of McDermott, whom he charged and deposited into the terraces over wide mid-off. His 29 from 30 balls ended when Hughes uprooted his middle stump, but he had broken the ice. While never dominating Warne, the New Zealand batsmen made a better fist of his bowling than at any other stage in the series, and won in something close to comfort.

Men of the Match: D. K. Morrison and K. R. Rutherford.

Close of play: First day, Australia 139-9 (S. K. Warne 3*, C. J. McDermott 6*); Second day, New Zealand 206-8 (M. L. Su'a 0*, D. K. Morrison 0*); Third day, Australia 226-6 (A. R. Border 61*, M. G. Hughes 0*); Fourth day, New Zealand 168-5 (K. R. Rutherford 31 *, T. E. Blain 19*).

© John Wisden & Co