VB Series, 2001-02

Richard Boock and Paul Coupar

Long after South Africa's victory is forgotten, this tournament will be remembered for the defeats that ended one of the most distinguished captaincies in one-day history. Steve Waugh's Australians finished the group stage with the same number of wins as South Africa and New Zealand, but missed the final of their own triangular tournament (renamed after a beer produced by the sponsors, Carlton) for only the third time in its 23-year history. Waugh's own form was poor, and this was enough for Australia's famously red-in-tooth-and-claw selectors: eight days after the tournament ended, Ricky Ponting replaced him as the one-day captain. Waugh and his twin, Mark, were dropped from the one-day squad.

Australia were holed below the waterline by three defeats in their first three games. The press blamed a policy of heavy rotation: four changes were made after each of the three opening matches. Batting was the weak link. Both Waughs were out of form, Adam Gilchrist's gunpowder went soggy and there was no sting in the tail. Only Michael Bevan averaged over 40. The bowlers, meanwhile, never conceded more than 250, and once routed South Africa for 106. Glenn McGrath shone brightest and took 14 wickets at 16. But Shane Warne disappointed: the loss of 17lbs on a diet of cereal, baked beans and water seemed to shear his powers, and he took only six at 54.

It could easily have been different. The Australians' bailing-out operation came within one point of success - and that point was gifted to South Africa by New Zealand. It was part of a calculated manoeuvre to exploit a new system introduced by the ICC the previous September, which awarded a bonus point to a team winning with a run-rate 1.25 times their opponents'. In New Zealand's final group match against South Africa, Stephen Fleming found himself in what he described as an "extremely disappointing" situation, where the second-best result for his team (after a win) was a heavy defeat. If New Zealand lost this match to South Africa, and Australia beat South Africa in the last qualifier two days later (which they did), and no bonus point was awarded in either game, then all three teams would finish tied on 17 points. They would not be separable on the first three prescribed tie-breakers, as each would have had four wins, have beaten one opponent three times and the other once, and have a single bonus point. The fourth tie-breaker would be net run-rate, where New Zealand lagged behind.

But if New Zealand lost to South Africa and conceded a bonus point in the process, the South Africans would end on 18 points, and so be removed from the tie-break equation. That would leave only Australia and New Zealand on 17 points, who would be separated on the second tie-breaker: most wins in head-to-head matches. New Zealand had beaten Australia 3-1, so they would go through. The only danger for New Zealand was that Australia would beat South Africa heavily enough in their last game to claim a bonus point of their own, in which case Australia would go through with 18 points. But once it became clear that New Zealand could not beat South Africa, their best chance of qualifying was to help South Africa stay ahead of Australia. In the hall-of-mirrors world of the bonus point, fewer runs meant a greater chance of making the final. The Australians could hardly complain: in the 1999 World Cup, they had hatched a similarly Machiavellian ruse, with New Zealand the intended victims. But a system designed to add spice had produced contrived, tedious cricket.

It was good work with the ball that allowed New Zealand to make such cunning use of the calculator and give Australia another embarrassment after their near-miss in the Test series. Shane Bond was easily the tournament's leading wicket-taker, with 21, including 15 batsmen in the top six. When he struck early, his colleagues did a superb smothering job in mid-innings; when he failed, containment proved more difficult. The batting was less inspiring, with some terribly slow starts. Only Fleming reached 300 runs, and they relied heavily on two all-rounders: Chris Harris nudged, Chris Cairns bludgeoned, and each won a match virtually single-handed.

With Australia on top of South Africa, just as in the recent Tests, and New Zealand on top of Australia, logic suggested that New Zealand would dominate South Africa. In fact, South Africa won five of their six meetings, including two forgettable finals. South Africa's batting - one aberration at Sydney apart - was reliable, if seldom spectacular. Jonty Rhodes and Jacques Kallis both averaged over 50, though it was Rhodes who contributed most when the going got tough. Of the bowlers, Shaun Pollock had no rival for accuracy, while Makhaya Ntini's ability to seam the ball from wide of the crease caused real trouble - though not quite as much trouble as the bonus-points controversy.

Match reports for

1st Match: Australia v New Zealand at Melbourne, Jan 11, 2002
Scorecard

2nd Match: Australia v South Africa at Melbourne, Jan 13, 2002
Scorecard

3rd Match: New Zealand v South Africa at Hobart, Jan 15, 2002
Scorecard

4th Match: Australia v New Zealand at Sydney, Jan 17, 2002
Scorecard

5th Match: New Zealand v South Africa at Brisbane, Jan 19, 2002
Scorecard

6th Match: Australia v South Africa at Brisbane, Jan 20, 2002
Scorecard

7th Match: Australia v South Africa at Sydney, Jan 22, 2002
Scorecard

8th Match: Australia v New Zealand at Adelaide, Jan 26, 2002
Scorecard

9th Match: New Zealand v South Africa at Adelaide, Jan 27, 2002
Scorecard

10th Match: Australia v New Zealand at Melbourne, Jan 29, 2002
Scorecard

11th Match: New Zealand v South Africa at Perth, Feb 1, 2002
Scorecard

12th Match: Australia v South Africa at Perth, Feb 3, 2002
Scorecard

1st Final: New Zealand v South Africa at Melbourne, Feb 6, 2002
Scorecard

2nd Final: New Zealand v South Africa at Sydney, Feb 8, 2002
Scorecard

© John Wisden & Co