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New Zealand began their tour of southern Africa in September able to field a side rich in experience but, after injuries had taken their toll, returned home in December with captain Stephen Fleming talking of "raw talent" and of the tour creating "a bigger playing base of players who are able to step up to Test cricket". Between contrasting Test series in Zimbabwe and South Africa, however, they had taken the cricket world by surprise by winning their first major one-day tournament, beating India by four wickets in the final of the ICC Knockout in Nairobi.
But Kenya was as good as it got. The New Zealanders lost 5-0 to South Africa in the one-day series that followed and, shorn of their first-string attack by injuries to Lance Cairns, Dion Nash and Daniel Vettori, were overwhelmed 2-0 in the three Tests. At the tour's start they had won both Test matches in Zimbabwe but, with Cairns resting his suspect knee in readiness for the ICC Knockout and 21-year-old Vettori already returned home for diagnosis of yet another back problem, they went down 2-1 in the one-day series.
Just how threadbare their attack was in South Africa can be gauged by the combined experience of their seam bowling in the opening Test at Bloemfontein. Shayne O'Connor, Daryl Tuffey and debutant Chris Martin totalled just 15 Tests between them, of which O'Connor had played 14 and was the only one with Test wickets (44). South Africa's Allan Donald, meanwhile, was looking for his 300th Test wicket before his home crowd. Vettori's replacement, leg-spinner Brooke Walker, was also making his debut after off-spinner Paul Wiseman had sprained his ankle playing frisbee before the first-class game against Boland. Scott Styris, initially bracketed with Cairns for the all-rounder's role, was another pre-Test casualty, having injured his knee in training.
Wiseman's injury resulted in a second dash to Africa for off-spinner Glen Sulzberger, who had been New Zealand A's leading first-class wicket-taker in England a few months earlier. His first call-up, to replace Vettori in the one-day squad for Zimbabwe and Kenya, had found him at Sydney airport on the way to watch his fiancée play hockey for New Zealand in the Olympics. Just as bizarre was Andrew Penn's round trip. Named originally among the pace bowlers for the first-class itinerary of the South African tour, he injured his back playing club cricket in Wellington and his place was taken by Chris Martin, another New Zealand A graduate. Styris's misfortune brought Penn another chance, only for him to aggravate his injury after promisingly taking five wickets in an innings against Border and have to return home.
Not that the injuries were confined to the bowlers. Fleming went into the Second Test against South Africa with stitches after damaging a finger on his left hand in fielding practice. And Matthew Horne's tour had ended early when he broke his hand in the First Test against Zimbabwe, having already set New Zealand on their way with a century. While that left the tourists without an experienced opener, it did give Mark Richardson, a 29-year-old left-hander who had averaged 71 for New Zealand A in England, the chance to establish his credentials as a Test batsman. Having got his tour going with a triple-hundred against Zimbabwe A, he made 99 in the Second Test there and was New Zealand's highest run-maker in the South African Tests. In all first-class matches in both countries, he averaged 71.07 from 995 runs. Patient, an astute judge of line and with improving shot selection, he was with medium-fast bowler Martin the tour's success.
Replacement opener Craig Spearman, a hard-hitting batsman in one-day games, never tarnished his reputation for inconsistency in the Tests or fulfilled the expectations raised by his twin hundreds in the game against North West. Promoting Adam Parore to partner Richardson in the Third Test against South Africa proved no more successful but did give 21-year-old Hamish Marshall an opportunity at the top level. While his technique underwent severe examination, his concentration stood him in good stead.
Like Richardson, Martin blossomed in the big time, impressing with his line and showing stamina in useful spells. He was leading wicket-taker in both the Test series and in all first-class matches in South Africa, finishing with 19 at 20.63. O'Connor's left-arm pace was capable of surprising South Africa's best, and his willingness to carry a heavy workload was essential to New Zealand's Second Test victory over Zimbabwe.
In contrast with the Zimbabweans, whose best was seen in all-too-familiar back-to-the-wall situations, Shaun Pollock's South Africans proved formidable opponents. Jonty Rhodes's decision to quit the Test scene and concentrate on one-day cricket, in South Africa's build-up to the World Cup there in 2003, allowed Neil McKenzie to slot comfortably into the middle order after his unhappy experience as opener in Sri Lanka in July and August. And when Donald was unfit for the Johannesburg Test, there was a ready-made lightning-fast replacement in Eastern Province's Mfuneko Ngam, a product like Makhaya Ntini of the black development programme. It was the first time two black South Africans had played Test cricket together and, with his three wickets at the Wanderers, Ntini emerged with 13 all told against New Zealand and the Man of the Series award.
Match reports for
Tour Match: Gauteng v New Zealanders at Soweto, Oct 18, 2000
Tour Match: Boland v New Zealanders at Paarl, Nov 7-9, 2000
Tour Match: North West v New Zealanders at Potchefstroom, Nov 11-13, 2000
Tour Match: Border v New Zealanders at Alice, Nov 24, 2000
Border v New Zealanders at East London, Nov 25-27, 2000
Match reports for
Tour Match: Zimbabwe Cricket Union President's XI v New Zealanders at Mutare, Sep 1-3, 2000
Tour Match: Zimbabwe A v New Zealanders at Kwekwe, Sep 7-9, 2000
Tour Match: CFX Academy v New Zealanders at Harare, Sep 25, 2000