Cricket Heroes

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Hurrah for New Zealand

New Zealand has won cricket matches before, but never a tournament, though eight times we reached finals. How immensely satisfying it was that when the duck was finally broken, it wasn't some rinky-dink three-team competition in the outbacks of Asia, but a genuine world event, involving every test-playing nation. New Zealand beat Zimbabwe and Pakistan. India eliminated Australia and South Africa, and then we beat India in the final by four wickets with two balls to spare. It was such a high-quality, dramatic match that it was worth sitting up all night, wrapped in a blanket, just in case we pulled it off.

It didn't begin well for New Zealand. Ganguly slammed his second successive century, Tendulkar smashed 69 before being run out and it seemed the Indians would take us apart But the 2000 version of the New Zealand team has more substance than those we fielded through much of the 1990s. The fielders remained alert, the bowling got slower and tighter and the Indians were strangled. When New Zealand batted, chasing 264, we knew only a major innings would bring victory. Spearman, Astle, Fleming, Twose, McMillan ... all fell and we weren't halfway there. Then Chris Cairns and Chris Harris, two survivors of the 1992 World Cup campaign, came together and won us the game. Cairns, after bowling 10 overs for 40 at a critical time, hit an unbeaten century at nearly a run a ball.

Lance's son has developed into the classic Boy's Own hero. His imposing physique only adds to his stature. He is now an all-rounder worthy of comparison with the best around. To my mind, only the South Africans Kallis and Klusener of today's all-rounders rival him. The litmus test: would he make the Australian side? Would he what! He'd be grabbed by his broad shoulders and plunked in at No 6 or 7 and thank you very much.

So there it was. The 2000 team managed what even that magnificent group of players in the early to mid-80s - Edgar, Wright, Turner (occasionally), Howarth, Crowe (M), Crowe (J), Reid (J F), Coney, Hadlee, Smith, Cairns (the elder), Bracewell, Chatfield - could not.

What has been the greatest day in New Zealand cricket? The choice is wider than many might imagine. Was it at Christchurch in 1930, when we finally played an official test, even if our opponents were a second-string England side? It took 36 years of international cricket before we were deemed worthy of test status. Pugnacious Stewie Dempster and languid Jack Mills showed that our elevated position hadn't come a moment too soon, hitting centuries in the second test of the series. What about Eden Park in 1956, when John Reid's unsung strugglers, trailing 3-0 in the series, routed the West Indies to record our first test win? Or in 1962, when, on the back of Reid's sustained brilliance with the bat, we drew the series 2-2 in South Africa? Think, too, of Christchurch in 1974, when Ken Wadsworth (who died two years later) smashed a cover drive to seal our first test win over Australia. How sweet that was, whipping the Chappells, Marsh, Walters, Stackpole and the rest of them. It almost made up for the Disgraceful Australian Snub - they wouldn't play a test against us from 1946-73, deeming us unworthy.

Greatest day? Maybe it came at the Basin Reserve in 1978, when Richard Hadlee and Richard Collinge blitzed Geoff Boycott's men and we scored our first win over England. Was cricket ever more exciting than that fourth afternoon when the two Richards ripped through the England batting and the crowd, sombre and despondent at seeing another victory thrown away, suddenly became deliriously ecstatic? This match pre-dated the R A Vance Stand, and the crowd on the bank chanted and danced, whooped and shouted. The fact that po-faced Boycott was the opposing captain made it all the sweeter.

These were some of the golden days of New Zealand cricket before the one-day era really kicked in. In the one-day arena, we reached heady heights in Australia in 1980-81 (the year of the infamous underarm), and at home in 1992 when Martin Crowe's team of batting blazers and dribbly-dibbly bowlers roared gloriously through to the semi-finals of the Cup. How thrilling it was to watch as Crowe's side whipped Australia, South Africa, India, the West Indies, England and the rest of them. There was Paddy Greatbatch charging Malcolm Marshall, and whacking sixes as if it was a backyard match. Crowe didn't know what a failure was and Ken Rutherford and Andrew Jones reached sublime form. It was fun to be a New Zealand supporter that month.

We've beaten England in test series in England, in 1986 and 1999, hammered Australia in Australia and then in New Zealand, in 1985-86, and eked out hard-earned victories on the Indian sub-continent. There were edge-of-the-seat test wins at Carisbrook over West Indies (1980) and Pakistan (1985), matches which went to the last ball and in which New Zealand relied on tail-enders Gary Troup, Stephen Boock and Ewen Chatfield to provide the winning runs.

And let's not overlook the individual highlights. Martin Donnelly, the darling of the English, but ever a New Zealander, carted Bedser, Bailey and company about Lord's for 206 in 1949, making his runs with a mixture of canny placement and sheer power, and giving mid-wicket a thorough going-over in the process. Glenn Turner's two test double centuries in the West Indies in 1972 were exercises in patience and technique. John Reid was nearly as productive but much more brutal in South Africa in 1961-62, and there were times when opening batsmen Stewie Dempster and Bert Sutcliffe made runs at the very top level as if of right. More? What about Martin Crowe's glorious batting against the West Indies at home in 1987? Bravery and elegance under fire. Or Crowe and Andrew Jones with their world-record partnership of 467 against Sri Lanka at the Basin in 1991? Not to overlook Ian Smith's amazing 173 against India at Eden Park in 1989. What an innings, on the first day of a test, by a No 9 batsman who arrived at the crease with his team 131-7. The jaunty wicketkeeper belted 23 fours and three sixes and faced just 136 balls in his never-to-be forgotten innings.

And the bowlers ... Jack Cowie, the Bull, demolished the star-packed Australian line-up at the Basin in 1946, and then repeated the dose the following year against Wally Hammond's Englishmen. Peter Petherick took a hat-trick on test debut, in Pakistan in 1976. There were Richard Hadlee's repeated heroics, too many to detail, on the way to his world record of 431 test wickets. All right, let's at least mention his nine-wicket haul (and 15 in the match) at Brisbane in 1985. We think also of Ewen Chatfield's parsimonious bowling in one-day matches; John Bracewell's belligerence and off-spin mastery; Tom Burtt's nagging accuracy in 1949, when his left-arm persistency nearly drove Len Hutton and Denis Compton to distraction; Hedley Howarth's equally fine bowling in England in 1969; leg-spinner Bill Merritt's two fine tours of England, in 1927 and '31.

New Zealand cricket hasn't enjoyed the consistent international success of the All Blacks, but there have been plenty of peaks, too numerous to single out, really, though it's fun trying. I'd put that historic first test win over the West Indies in 1956 at the top. Reid's fighting 84, Harry Cave's accurate and hostile medium-paced bowling, wee Noel McGregor circling around to mid-wicket to catch a skier off Everton Weekes to seal victory late on the final afternoon. Now that was a day. But so was Sunday, October 15, 2000, when Stephen Fleming's men beat India in the final of the ICC one-day tournament in Kenya. Fancy seeking one-day glory all over the world, from Dunedin to Sharjah, Lord's to Port of Spain, Singapore to Perth, and finally finding it in Nairobi.

We've been playing one-day cricket since 1973, when we beat Pakistan by 22 runs at Lancaster Park, as it used to be known. It was a 40-over affair and Richard Hadlee took 0-37 off just five overs, but his brother Dayle proved the match-winner with 4-34 from eight overs. There was a rather farcical finish when, in near-darkness, Sarfraz Nawaz imitated a blind man with a walking stick as he faced the final overs. Our first one-day tournament was the 1975 World Cup in England, when we were eliminated in the semi-finals, as we have been three times since. We've played 355 one-day internationals, and won a fair whack of them - 147.

We do not have a promising cricket team, or one with potential. We have a fully developed side, with experienced players who have the composure to handle most situations. They aren't all great players. The 1980s group, spear-headed by Martin Crowe and Hadlee, who were both far better than anything on offer now, was some distance ahead man for man. But the current side is a tight unit and they take a power of beating. Australia are better and maybe South Africa, even the post-Cronje version. But no team faces New Zealand overflowing with confidence. Isn't it nice to have a cricket team to be proud of.?

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