New Zealand's tour began under clouds of injury and illness and finished under heavier ones at Brisbane, when rain ruined the gripping conclusion to the one-day series. In between there was an initially competitive but ultimately lop-sided Test series. Despite their lowly world ranking, many thought New Zealand would again perform their traditional trick of ruffling their mighty neighbours. They didn't.
Winning the series with a depleted team was too ambitious, but to challenge in every session was a reasonable target for the tourists. Instead, the world champions, who defeated India away for the first time since 1969 less than two weeks before the First Test, spectacularly roused themselves after two days of slumber in Brisbane to toy with and humiliate their opponents. "Every time they play this well they send tremors round the world," was Fleming's summation of the series.
The two-Test Trans-Tasman Trophy was squeezed in over 13 days and effectively decided at the Gabba when New Zealand were run over for 76. The visitors had arrived for the tour to a terse description of their attack from The Australian: "Kiwi popguns". But at that stage their problem was getting a side on the field at all. Fleming was struggling with a mysterious virus contracted in Bangladesh; Nathan Astle had a back injury and Daniel Vettori (crucial to an attack definitely without Shane Bond, Daryl Tuffey and the retired Chris Cairns) a shoulder problem.
All three eventually played in all the international matches, and Vettori enhanced his reputation in both forms. But the injuries did have one significant knock-on effect: Craig McMillan, who was called in as emergency cover and played the First Test ahead of the original squad member Hamish Marshall, made his greatest impact during a heated argument with Adam Gilchrist over the merits of walking.
As the outcome of the series became inevitable, batsmen standing their ground became the month's big moral issue. It rumbled when Mathew Sinclair stayed put at Brisbane and was pilloried for not accepting Ponting's word that he had taken a third-slip chance off Jason Gillespie, which was confirmed by the video umpire. Then on the fourth afternoon at Brisbane, it exploded. McMillan appeared to inside-edge Gillespie to Gilchrist, but stood his ground and was given not out by Steve Bucknor. A less-thancordial exchange ensued.
Yet there was barely a ripple when Matthew Hayden leaned on his bat after a clean caught-and-bowled to Paul Wiseman in the next match. McMillan continued the debate with a more cordial - and public - discussion with Gilchrist on the boundary's edge when the match finished. "Just because one or two guys are on a crusade doesn't mean it changes the way of 95% of the other cricketers," Fleming said. Throughout the series, players were asked for their stance on walking: Gilchrist does, Ponting doesn't, Hayden won't, Fleming might. "An individual's right to decide should be respected," he continued.
Fleming missed the first tour match, a nine-wicket defeat by New South Wales, but joined the squad for the opening Test, and his demeanour was bright. That lasted until Australia, as so often, produced a string of devastating partnerships to reply to New Zealand's challenging first-innings score. Michael Clarke, playing his first home Test, and Gilchrist pounced with centuries, and a last-wicket stand of 114 from Glenn McGrath and Gillespie, who both reached maiden Test fifties, pushed the match out of reach even if New Zealand had batted respectably second time round, which they didn't.
"It probably happened a bit easier than we thought," Ponting said of the innings-and-156-run victory. He made it harder at Adelaide, sadistically extending New Zealand's torture into a fifth day. Justin Langer's doublecentury and an all-round bowling performance set up a 213-run win. It could have ended a day earlier if Ponting had enforced the follow-on with a lead of 324. He decided to protect his bowlers and inflict more misery on a side Australia would face again in March. The tour was barely three weeks old; for New Zealand it felt much, much longer.
The mood altered when the one-day specialists turned up and the versatile players changed from whites to colours. As Cairns arrived at the hotel, the New Zealanders must have wanted to hang like a toddler from the hem of his trousers. Cairns had become a one-day-only player following the 2004 England tour, and his giant bowling and batting shadows hung over New Zealand's efforts in the Tests. The first reminder of his talent came during the opening match of the inaugural Chappell-Hadlee one-day series at the Telstra Dome.
Suddenly, New Zealand had upgraded from easy-beats to upbeat and were one win away from taking the best-of-three series. Australia restored parity at Sydney with a display that was convincing at times and worryingly jittery at others. The series was poised for an appetising finale, but any hope of a satisfying conclusion was drowned in unseasonal rain.
Match reports for
Tour Match: New South Wales v New Zealanders at Sydney, Nov 11-14, 2004
Tour Match: Victoria Invitational v New Zealanders at Melbourne, Dec 2, 2004