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New Zealand took great satisfaction from their execution of a plan, almost laughable in its simplicity, which nearly added another colourful chapter to Test cricket's book of surprises. In the end, the New Zealanders could not quite pull off victory over the mighty Australians, but they did come through three Tests unbeaten. No tourists had played two or more Tests in Australia without at least one defeat since Kapil Dev's Indian side in 1985-86.
The theory was hatched earlier in 2001, when the New Zealand captain, Stephen Fleming, was in England, watching the Ashes series while playing for Middlesex, and it was fine-tuned and polished until December, at Perth, where Australia were taken to the brink of one of the biggest upsets in living memory. It depended on a quaint, old-fashioned and oft-forgotten virtue - patience.
Though it caused amusement when first mooted, the strategy was later confirmed by the New Zealand coach, Denis Aberhart. Its rationale was that Australia were vulnerable in the last two days of a Test match - provided they had not already annihilated their opposition within the first three. Believing the world champions were so keen for a sprint that they had become unfamiliar with the distance race, New Zealand aimed to weather the initial onslaught and then hang on for dear life.
Many Kiwis would claim that they went within a deaf umpire of having the last laugh. The New Zealanders were probably saved by rain at Brisbane - though an over-generous declaration almost let them steal victory - and Hobart. But when they played well enough, in Perth, it all came to fruition. Lou Vincent made a famous debut, scoring one of four centuries in the first innings. True to their promise, New Zealand batted on stubbornly in their second innings, eventually setting Australia the apparently impossible challenge of scoring 440 in a minimum of 107 overs.
This was when Australia were staggering on the ropes. It was surely time for New Zealand to change to Plan B: fix bayonets, jump out of the trenches and finish them off. Another wicket or two on the last morning, and they might have done it. Instead, New Zealand continued to play the waiting game until the batsmen were reasonably settled and, worse, their strike bowler, the slow left-armer Daniel Vettori, was beginning to tire. The longer the innings progressed, the more difficult the bowlers' task became. Sustained by an unbeaten 83 from Adam Gilchrist, Australia ended at 381 for seven, with only Brett Lee and Glenn McGrath left to bat. It remained a spell-binding Test, and, if Ian Robinson had not turned down confident appeals against Steve Waugh and Jason Gillespie, the unfancied Kiwis might still have struck the jackpot.
Two debuts augured well for New Zealand's future. It seemed they had found a precious gift in Vincent, who offered refreshing confidence and unbounding energy. Shane Bond, although he claimed only three wickets in three innings, showed glimpses of pace that suggested they had finally uncovered a bowler who could give back in kind what their batsmen had been taking for years. Of the older hands, Nathan Astle was the series' leading run-scorer with 322, and Adam Parore helped him add 253 for the eighth wicket at Perth.
Australia's two great bowlers, McGrath and Shane Warne, were virtually neutralised by New Zealand's waiting game. Warne had taken 407 wickets before the series started, but captured only six for 430 in five innings, and McGrath, who started with 358, managed to add just five for 327. McGrath found that his habit of bowling just outside off stump was not tempting the batsmen as in previous seasons. Warne, on the other hand, was never allowed to settle, and his rhythm was disturbed by a barrage of sweep shots. He batted better than he bowled, and Australia had to rely on Lee and Gillespie for the bulk of their wickets.
New Zealand also worked out individual tactics for the big-name batsmen. They bowled short at the ageing Waugh twins, Steve and Mark, who were uncomfortable for most of the series and needed luck to score their half-centuries at Perth. Between them, they totalled only 218 in eight innings, and the tour started a downward spiral. Steve made a last-day declaration at Brisbane which allowed New Zealand to come within ten runs of victory, after they had narrowly avoided the follow-on. His problems were to continue when Australia returned in January for the triangular one-day series: New Zealand beat them three times out of four and manipulated the bonus-point system to squeeze them out of the final. Scapegoats were called for, and both Waughs were dropped, apparently for good, from the one-day squad.
The Waughs' decline left a hole in Australia's middle order, where only Ricky Ponting fired. But the batting still had its stars in the phenomenal left-handed openers, Justin Langer, named Man of the Series, and Matthew Hayden. Invited to bat, they set up the first two Tests with partnerships of 224 and 223, only to see rain undermine their good work. In the Third Test, Fleming finally decided to take first use of the pitch, broke their spell, and almost triumphed.
Match reports for
Queensland Academy of Sport v New Zealanders at Brisbane, Oct 16-19, 2001
Australian Capital Territory President's XII v New Zealanders at Canberra, Oct 21-23, 2001
Queensland Academy of Sport v New Zealanders at Brisbane, Oct 26-28, 2001
Queensland v New Zealanders at Brisbane, Nov 1-4, 2001
South Australia v New Zealanders at Adelaide, Nov 16-19, 2001
Prime Minister's XI v New Zealanders at Canberra, Dec 6, 2001
Australia A v New Zealanders at Brisbane, Jan 8, 2002
Tour Match: Australian Country XI v New Zealanders at Bowral, Jan 23, 2002