Played before sparse crowds in three of Australia's Test outposts, this series unfortunately fulfilled all its expectations. It was low-key, one-sided, lacking in authentic drama and unable to rise above the perception that it was merely warm-up for the season's main event.

Martin Crowe had a wry smile when he announced New Zealand as first among the touring teams. He well knew it was the chronological rather than the absolute truth, and that the Kiwis could not compare with South Africa in their ability to capture Australia's imagination, nor, as it transpired, their wickets. New Zealand were out of season, out of form, lacking in experience and soon to run out of luck as well. They were further disadvantaged when they were pitched headlong into the most alien environment in the country: the fast and high-bouncing WACA ground in Perth.

As if those were not obstacles enough, Crowe's bothersome right knee broke down altogether during the First Test and he was forced to go home for surgery and a prolonged convalescence. Although Ken Rutherford proved an able replacement as captain, astute on the field and forthright off it, his most profound handicap was the loss of Crowe's batting. Willie Watson and Chris Cairns also broke down and the curse of injuries continued to plague New Zealand: by the end of the World Series, in which they blew a good chance of reaching the final, 21 players had been rotated through a nominal squad of 14. The teams for the second and Third Tests boasted less international experience than the state teams of Queensland and New South Wales.

Against this bleak backdrop, the very least New Zealand needed was to play to the best of their ability; sadly, they did not. There was some initial trepidation in Australia, not only about the possibility of post-Ashes complacency, but because the New Zealanders have a long history of underdoggedness in these encounters, as important to them as the Ashes are to Australia. That spirit momentarily asserted itself in the First Test, but departed with Crowe. Thereafter, the Kiwis' essential frailty could not be disguised. In the Second Test at Hobart, New Zealand suffered their heaviest ever Test defeat and they were crushed again by an innings in the Third Test in Brisbane and meekly surrendered the Trans-Tasman Trophy.

Post-Hadlee, New Zealand's attack had developed an unhealthy dependence on Danny Morrison. Although at first he was full of vitality, he was miserably let down by his fieldsmen, who contrived to drop 13 catches in the Tests. Morrison took only one wicket after the first day of the series - a caught-and-bowled - and his final figures were a scarcely credible three for 422. Soon afterwards, he returned to New Zealand to nurse an injured knee and a broken heart. New Zealand's other senior bowlers, Cairns and Dipak Patel, were also hindered by injury, no one else stepped forward and, in the Third Test, five bowlers conceded more than 100 runs in Australia's only innings, the second such occurrence in Test history.

New Zealand's batting was equally lightweight. Andrew Jones was typically resilient and Rutherford at least had the courage of his attacking convictions. But Mark Greatbatch had a horrid series, falling to Craig McDermott five times in six innings for a total of 67 runs, and there was no authentic batting below No. 5. By the Third Test, when Greatbatch was eased down the order away from the new ball, New Zealand's opening batsmen were a pair of rookies, one of them the converted wicket-keeper Bryan Young.

Since their Ashes triumph, Australia had lost Merv Hughes, who was undergoing exhaustive rehabilitation from knee surgery, but had regained McDermott. Glenn McGrath joined Paul Reiffel as back-up. New Zealand's batsmen were no more conversant with Shane Warne's leg-spin than they had been earlier in the year and his 18 wickets eclipsed the Australian record against New Zealand (17, shared by himself and McDermott). Tim May joined him in the Second Test in a spinners' smorgasbord of 16 wickets. Australia's batting was rarely challenged after the first day of the series and ran riot, Nos. 1 to 7 in the order each making a century and averaging better than 50. If suspicions lingered about Australia's vulnerability to pressure, New Zealand were not the team to probe them.

The spirit between the sides was good, for the teams were too far apart for friction. Jones was censured by referee Venkataraghavan in Perth for obvious dissent in throwing the ball to the ground when an appeal for a catch against Mark Taylor was denied. Rutherford forgave the Australians their intermittent and sometimes gratuitous sledging; saying he wished his own team would play with such vigour. He also said he feared that in cricket's emerging new order, New Zealand would find themselves in an unofficial second division. As the Third Test neared its inexorable conclusion, Australian and New Zealand officials were finalising what amounted to a rescue package, whereby Australia would lend coaches and technology to their struggling neighbours. But despite New Zealand's claim that the Australians were their most popular and therefore most profitable touring team Australia's philanthropy did not extend to a pledge of more frequent visits. Rather, it was announced that New Zealand had been jostled aside by South Africa for a permanent place in Australia's four-year cycle, and it seemed certain that the trans-Tasman neighbours would play even less often in future.

The most disappointing aspect of the series was that the Australian public recognised it for the bland offering it was and stayed resolutely away. Even Hobart, so anxious for so long for a second opportunity to host a Test, saw its match outdrawn by a local cultural festival. The aggregate attendance of the three Tests was almost exceeded by the first one-day international of the summer, between Australia and South Africa, in Melbourne two days later. The main event was about to begin.


M. D. Crowe (Wellington) (captain), K. R. Rutherford (Otago) (vice-captain), T. E. Blain (Central Districts), C. L. Cairns (Canterbury), S. B. Doull (Northern Districts), M. J. Greatbatch (Central Districts), M. J. Haslam (Auckland), A. H. Jones (Wellington), D. K. Morrison (Auckland), D. N. Patel (Auckland), B. A. Pocock (Northern Districts), M. L. Su'a (Auckland), W. Watson (Auckland), B. A. Young (Northern Districts).

R. P. De Groen and D. J. White (both of Northern Districts) and C. Z. Harris (Canterbury) joined the party during the tour as cover for Crowe, Greatbatch and Watson.

Manager: M. Sandlant. Coach: G. P. Howarth.