Stephen Fleming (left) and Steve Waugh share the Trophy. A series of this intensity deserved only one result © Getty Images
Stephen Fleming (left) and Steve Waugh share the Trans-Tasman Trophy. A series of this intensity deserved only one result © Getty Images

After a maddening last day at Brisbane and a damp squib at Hobart, Australia and New Zealand headed for Perth to play the decider. New Zealand began in spectacular fashion, with four batsmen slamming hundreds in the same innings, but Australia stayed in the hunt, risking defeat and batting at breakneck pace in both innings. As a fitting finale, Adam Gilchrist went berserk on December 4, 2001 when he could easily have opted to play safe. Abhishek Mukherjee looks back at the last day of a forgotten series.

There was rain in Brisbane. The match was headed for a drab draw. But Stephen Fleming had thrown Steve Waugh a challenge, and the senior man had responded. The maniacal last-day chase from New Zealand did not culminate in a fairytale finish, but helped put Test cricket back to where it belongs — at the pinnacle of world sport.

Hobart was different. There was rain, as in Brisbane. There were outrageous knocks from Australia’s top three — something that would become a pattern for several years. While Glenn McGrath, Shane Warne, and Jason Gillespie bowled out one side after another, the foundation was laid every time by the aggressive yet consistent Matthew Hayden and Justin Langer at the top, the reliable Damien Martyn to shepherd the middle-order, and Adam Gilchrist to seal the match.

In between all that was Ricky Ponting, who would emerge as the leading batsman in the world in the first six years of the new millennium. The likes of Simon Katich and Michael Hussey and Michael Clarke and Brett Lee and Stuart MacGill stood up in case the big guns failed on those rare occasions. Mark Taylor and Mark Waugh and Michael Slater and Ian Healy and Damien Fleming and Andy Bichel were hardly missed.

And the juggernaut rolled on.

But we are digressing. Australia batted brilliantly at Hobart, Langer bringing up his third ton in three innings at the top. Daniel Vettori whisked out three wickets and New Zealand ran into trouble despite the grit of Fleming and Craig McMillan, only to be bailed by rain.

Australia were the dominant side in the series. Had both Tests been played out to the end there was little doubt that they would have gone 2-0 up. But they did not, and New Zealand were not bogged by the fact. They were confident going into the Perth Test.

The Vincent-Fleming show

Unlike in 2016, the WACA of 2001 retained the pace and bounce of the 20th century. While that meant that genuine fast bowlers often terrorised batsmen, it also meant that batsmen, especially back-foot players, could play their strokes more fluently, for the ball came on to the bat better than on most pitches.

New Zealand drafted in Lou Vincent. At this stage of his career Vincent was branded as an ODI batsman. He was a spectacular fielder, he could hit the ball extremely hard in the middle-order, but his technique was untested.

Fleming opted to bat, which meant that Vincent was to be thrown to McGrath, Gillespie, Lee, and Warne. More importantly, he was to open batting.

To the surprise of everyone, the durable Mark Richardson was the first to perish. Gillespie swung the new ball prodigiously, and the ball made its way through the gate to strike timber. Mathew Sinclair was trapped leg-before by McGrath next over. The score read 19 for 2 when Fleming joined Vincent.

Nine overs went by. The score reached 32. Vincent, in his new avatar, had ambled to a 27-ball 8. He had been beaten by McGrath several times, but he had survived the spell.

Then it happened. The camera panned on to McGrath, clutching his back. The medical crew rushed to the ground. The agony was evident. He had to leave the ground, and had to be taken to the hospital for an X-ray.

Vincent breathed a sigh of relief. His chief tormentor had left. Lee, who replaced McGrath, was quicker, but Vincent played him comfortably. “Things looked good for a while,” he would confess in the end-of-day press conference.

Vincent was not an exceptional batsman, but he had his unusual assortment of strokes. One of them, an off-drive played from close to his body, was astonishing.

Fleming was different. Like most quality batsmen of the short ball, Fleming had an assortment of back-foot drives where the bat came down like a whiplash, the sound reverberating through the massive ground. Waugh brought his fielders in, and Fleming responded with his drives, often on the rise.

Warne was cut disdainfully. The pair went to lunch at 87 for 2, each of them on 33. Warne had been economical but ineffective, and Waugh had to resort to the medium-pace of Martyn in the absence of McGrath.

The post-lunch strategy was obvious: Warne would wheel away over after over one end while Gillespie and Lee would alternate from the other. But once they saw off the initial overs the boundaries started to come, Fleming opening up first, then Vincent.

Then Vincent unleashed his ODI mode. When Lee bowled one wide of off, Vincent gave it his all, hitting it so hard that the top-edge flew over the slips.

A frustrated Warne even attempted a bouncer, which took Vincent by some surprise, but when Lee did the same, Vincent unleashed a ferocious hook into the stands. There was a long-leg, but Vincent was always one for adventurous strokes.

Mark Waugh came on for his off-breaks, but the runs kept coming. Vincent raced past Fleming before smashing Lee for consecutive fours. The gap increased.

Vincent kept going. When they pitched outside off with two slips and a gully, he kept piercing them with well-timed steers. The hundred eventually came off the 200th ball he faced, with a four off Gillespie through the same zone.

Then Warne pitched one up. Vincent stepped out for the expansive drive and missed. The ball zipped past the outside edge. The turn was prodigious, more so for a first-day track — enough to beat Gilchrist and land in the hands of a diving Mark Waugh at first slip.

To the surprise of everybody, they all went up in unison, appealing for a catch; and the umpire ruled in favour of the bowler. Television replays suggested otherwise. They had added 199.

Fleming’s hundred came up with a pull off Warne. Lee responded with a scorcher. Fleming played half-forward, but the ball was too quick for him; once again the replays suggested that the ball might have missed leg.

Fleming fell for 105. Vincent had scored 104. But despite that there was no doubt that the day had belonged to the debutant.

Take out a minute to understand the enormity of Vincent’s achievement. Here was a middle-order limited-overs-specialist batsman with not much technique to boast of. It was a series decider against the strongest team on earth. He was making his debut, and was thrown to McGrath, Gillespie, and Lee on the bounciest pitch on earth. There was Warne, no less, to back them.

And he responded a hundred.

When Fleming was asked about his innings he passed it over to Vincent: “It’s Lou’s day.”

“He’s an inspiring leader; he kept me cool and composed at times in the game when the timing, the head and the feet were all over the place,” responded Vincent when asked about Fleming.

Then Australia hit back: Gillespie and Lee, bowling in tandem, created many a problem for the tourists. Craig McMillan went first, trapped by Gillespie, after facing 3 balls. Vettori, sent as night-watchman, another 3. Chris Cairns fell after facing 5 balls. The three men had scored a mere 14 between them.

From 264 for 3 New Zealand had slumped to 281 for 7. Nathan Astle and Adam Parore added another 12 before they called stumps. They had to resurrect again, the way Vincent and Fleming had done.

Astle and Parore

Astle was in good nick that evening. There were no undue risks, but he pounced upon anything at the slightest chance. A cover-drive and a square-cut off Warne fetched him boundaries, but the crème la crème was a hook off McGrath. The ball was too close for the stroke, but Astle moved his face away at the last moment, placing the ball in front of square for four.

Parore, too, had flicked Lee to the fine-leg fence. He looked comfortable, but this was a new day, and both men had to begin afresh.

As was expected, McGrath and Gillespie did not spare an inch. Astle and Parore left whatever they could and blocked the rest. The first 7 overs of the day fetched a mere 4 runs, but crucially, both men were there at the crease.

Finally Astle could not hold back any more. The ball from McGrath was too close to cut, but he went for it anyway, and pulled it off with perfection. They carried on, the two of them: Astle, standing tall and going after everything loose; and Parore, crouched to the extent that he looked almost minuscule, was more cautious, perfectly happy to play second fiddle.

McGrath and Gillespie gave way to Lee and Warne. Astle brought up his fifty with a glorious cover-drive off the former. Then Parore exploded: after batting 83 balls for 18, he suddenly exploded with a slog-swept six off Warne.

Back came McGrath. The great man bounced. The ball was outside off. Had it climbed steeply, Astle would perhaps have let it go. It did not. Astle, ready on the back-foot, pulled for another boundary. Runs kept coming, and Parore finished the first session on a high, with a neat on-drive off McGrath for four.

363 for 7. The danger had been averted.

The Australians changed strategy after lunch. Gillespie came round the wicket. He bounced, but Astle, one of the finest players of the short ball in contemporary cricket, found enough time to guide it to the left of Gilchrist. Gillespie strayed a little towards off; Astle cracked it to the point boundary.

They persisted. McGrath came back for his 26th over. He bounced. Astle hooked to the fine-leg fence. He bounced again. Astle hooked again, this time past square-leg. Two fours.

The strategy was clear, but this was Astle’s day, for though he hooked at every given chance, he managed to keep every single of his hooks on the ground.

The fifth ball of the over was a rollicking off-drive. Five balls. Twelve runs. The 3 fours also took him from 88 to three figures.

Clockwise from bottom left: Nathan Astle, Adam Parore, Lou Vincent, Stephen Fleming — the four New Zealand centurions © Getty Images
Clockwise from bottom left: Nathan Astle, Adam Parore, Lou Vincent, Stephen Fleming — the four New Zealand centurions © Getty Images

Parore, of course, took to Warne and Mark Waugh. Every time the spinners tossed up anything on middle or further down, Parore swept violently, in air or on the ground. With time he took more liberties, coming down the track and playing expansive drives through the V.

Warne dropped one short. Astle, quick to gauge the length, pulled it over deep mid-wicket, past the ropes. When Martyn came on, Parore almost decapitated him with a full-blooded straight drive that missed Martyn’s face by inches.

Fittingly, Parore brought up his hundred with a sweep off Warne. For some inexplicable reason, Martyn, too, tried to bounce the batsmen out. A cut and a pull put him into place. And a push to mid-on gave Astle his 150.

The end came swiftly as Parore, trying to hook Lee, holed out to McGrath at deep square-leg for 110. It would remain his career-best. The pair had added 253.

Three balls later Lee clean bowled Bond. Fleming declared immediately, for sending Chris Martin to bat made no sense. Martin’s previous 4 innings had all been ducks.

What was more; an hour had elapsed since tea: after five-and-a-half sessions of grinding, the time to test Langer and Hayden had come.

Astle remained unbeaten on 156. From 19 for 2, and later 281 for 7, New Zealand had amassed 534 for 9. More interestingly, of the ten men, four had scored hundreds and the other six had been dismissed for single-digit scores.

Blitzkrieg level: Hollywood

Australia had been batted out of the series. They could either save or lose the Test, or, as in this case, series, from there. Indeed, that was what the pundits said.

But Waugh thought otherwise, even after Hayden fell for a second-ball duck to Bond. The ball came faster than Hayden had expected, and went low to Vincent — the man who could do no wrong — at gully.

Ponting walked out, hit a boundary off the second ball he faced, and waltzed on as if there was no tomorrow. They were up against 534. They had lost an early wicket. Most teams would have been happy to play out that hour.

But there was a reason why they hailed Ponting a champion. Or Australia a champion side, for that matter: not only did they play quality cricket, they played positive cricket. The stage was set for the grandest possible finale after the Brisbane humdinger.

Australia’s fifty came up in the eighth over. It had been just over half an hour, and the pressure was already back on New Zealand, for Ponting kept finding gaps to perfection. He was out on a mission, batting like a man possessed.

Just when it seemed Australia would bat out till stumps, Ponting made a moment’s lapse and chased one from Martin to Parore. His 37-ball 31 was neither a big score nor a substantial base on which others could build on: but it had sent out a message to the Kiwi camp.

The message became clearer when Mark Waugh walked out. It was well-known that his elder brother did not think much about night-watchmen, but Australia, under pressure here, could have gone for the defensive.

But there was nothing of the sort. Waugh hit a four off the fourth ball he faced. Before stumps Langer smashed two more. The fast outfield that had aided New Zealand over two days now came to Australia’s aid. They ended the day at 75 for 2 in a mere 15 overs.

There was a match on.

Langer and Mark Waugh saw off Cairns and Martin before exploding. Waugh caressed one to the fence off Martin; three balls later he hit consecutive fours off Cairns. Australia raced past the hundred-mark in the 24th over.

Vettori was yet to acquire the nickname Harry Potter. He had little to do barring playing the role of the stock bowler on a pitch that had nothing to offer Warne. It was perhaps for this reason that Mark Waugh went after him, lofting him towards backward-point.

It went low, to the wrong side of Bond. It is not the kind of catches you expect fast bowlers to pull off. But then, it is not every day that you have a police officer manning the fence. It could well have been another day of patrolling for Bond. He made the catch look easy.

That did not deter Steve Waugh, who smashed Vettori for two boundaries in an over. Vettori responded with a peach: it pitched on a length and turned just about sufficiently to take the edge; Parore did the rest.

Australia were 137 for 4, but they were not remotely keen in going on the back-foot. Langer hit Vettori into the stands while Martyn placed him for four. Vettori had taken the twins, but they were not hesitant to counterattack him.

Langer fell in the second session. He was too late on to the bouncer from Cairns, and the hook went to Parore. After three hundreds in three innings at the top Langer finally ‘failed’, perishing for a mere 75.

As Langer walked back amidst tumultuous applause (this was his home turf, after all) they all checked the screen for the replays. Cairns had clearly overstepped…

Fleming sensed blood. He knew Gilchrist was the danger man, but being the shrewd captain that he was, memories of Gilchrist’s horror run in India earlier that year must have crossed his mind. With Vettori on the prowl, Fleming surrounded Gilchrist with a giant umbrella of fielders that closed in with every ball.

Vettori responded. One ball took the edge and went to Richardson at short-leg. The man who could swing Australia’s fortune in a session had fallen for a duck. Australia were 192 for 6. They were 342 behind.

Would Australia follow-on after 144 Tests?

Warne walked out. Let alone a Test hundred, his First-Class highest score was 86. Martyn was, of course, there, but he needed someone to be around.

The strategy was clear: Martyn would hold one end up while Warne would play with freedom, even take risks if needed. He survived twice. A lifter from Bond took his edge but Astle grassed it at second-slip; and a direct hit from Vincent might have run him out for 16.

He whacked Cairns over point, then placed him past backward-point for four; Martin was pulled ferociously past mid-wicket; and Bond was cut with disdain.

Sensing danger, Fleming got Vettori to switch to over the wicket. It had no effect on Warne whatsoever, who slogged him over mid-wicket. Martyn, meanwhile, was happy to give Warne the strike.

The partnership swelled. They needed 65 to avoid the follow-on. Then Martyn perished for 60, trying to slice Cairns and playing straight to Fleming at backward-point.

That, however, did not deter Warne. The ball from Cairns was only slightly wide. Warne arched back and smashed it past point. It was hit so hard that the fielder did not have time to move. The next ball raced to the fine-leg fence. And a full-toss from Bond was driven down the ground.

A boundary from Lee helped Australia avert follow-on, but Vettori claimed him soon after that. Warne responded with a crisp extra-cover drive off Bond that took him to the nineties for the first time.

He was on 94 when Vettori took out Gillespie, his fifth wicket. McGrath survived the rest of the over. Two twos and a single off Bond took Warne to 99. He had also seen the over off.

The shadows lengthened on the pitch. The ground, half-full, waited with bated breath for that single. Three balls passed by.

Vettori tossed one up. It was on off, but Warne had probably made up his mind beforehand. He went for the slog-sweep, but there was only a top-edge. The ball gained altitude and dipped on Richardson at deep mid-wicket, who came up with a tumbling catch.

Warne ran for the single that would give him his hundred. His eyes were on the ball in case the catch was grassed. It was not. Richardson took his hat off and bowed to the crowd with a flourish.

Warne walked back, dejected, for what would remain a career-best of 99 in his Test career. He had, however, kept the first-innings lead to 183. With the dismissal curtains came down on Day Three.

A dejected Shane Warne walks back after being dismissed for 99, consoled by Glenn McGrath © Getty Images
A dejected Shane Warne walks back after being dismissed for 99, consoled by Glenn McGrath © Getty Images

Time to declare

Vincent began in breakneck fashion, smashing a 54-ball 54 as Richardson held one end up. Unfortunately, Sinclair got bogged down. There was a phase when a phase when 46 minutes fetched him a solitary run, but he recovered to a 54-ball 29.

Cairns was promoted to No. 5, and he responded with a quick 42, including two massive sixes off McGrath (how many men have done that?) over long-on and deep mid-wicket. Astle, the other person who could have taken things past Australia, got a brisk 40.

Fleming batted on even after the lead went past 400. Not only did he know that Australia had the depth to accept the challenge, he also knew that Australia would accept the challenge.

McMillan and Parore played cameos before the batsmen hit out, perishing one by one. Fleming declared the moment the ninth wicket fell. Once again he (perhaps) stuck to the theory of not delaying proceedings for Martin’s batting.

Australia were set 440. They had 17 overs on Day Four and the entire Day Five. It would be a world record if they chased it down. Would they go for it? Of course they would go for it!

Twin trouble

Australia needed a good start. Langer, with 3 hundreds and 75 in his last 4 innings as opener, was obviously the man they wanted to provide them with that start.

The first two overs passed by without an event. The first ball of the third over crashed into Langer’s pads. Bond went up in a screaming appeal, only to be turned down. Langer edged the next ball to Vettori at third slip.

Once again Ponting came out with the intent to go for the kill from first ball. Hayden matched him stroke by stroke, and Australia raced at four an over. Then Ponting inside-edged one from Cairns on to the stumps for a 26-ball 26.

There was no question of a night-watchman, for Australia were going for the chase. They finished Day Four on 69 for 2, scored off a mere 17 overs. They needed 371 on the last day.

Waugh set the tone with two boundaries in the first three balls of the day. Hayden continued at the other end, and runs came in a flurry. By the time Vettori had Hayden caught at slip he had scored 57. Australia needed another 310 in a minimum of 421 balls.

Steve Waugh joined his brother, and was expected, neither twin refused to budge. On 13 he survived an appeal off Vettori when he edged one to Parore. Replays revealed a snick, but Ian Robinson had clearly thought otherwise.

This was probably where Fleming lost the plot a bit by getting a bit defensive. The run rate came down, but at the same time overs passed by, and both sides slid further away from a gripping climax.

The 51st over went for 13. The 56th, for 10. They needed 246 from 306 balls, a shade below 5 an over.

The wicket was still playing well. The outfield was lightening. A desperate Fleming turned to the medium-pace of McMillan.

It took McMillan four balls to provide a lethal off-cutter that clean bowled Mark Waugh for 86. The frontline bowlers had not been able to move the ball to that extent till then.

Martyn responded in style, taking McMillan for two boundaries. Once again a partnership — a sedate one this time — developed. And once again Vettori broke through, making on beat Martyn’s edge and hit the stumps.

Australia were 5 down. They needed 196 from 171 balls. Surely they could not win it from here?

Gilly goes ballistic

Gilchrist took his time to settle down. There was a storm simmering. Gilchrist let it brew. He waited. Runs came in singles, punctuated by the odd boundary, but Waugh and Gilchrist knew exactly what they were doing.

They needed 141 in 78 balls. The asking rate had mounted to almost 11. Then it happened.

Vettori started with a dot ball. The second one was tossed up outside off. Gilchrist stepped out. The ball turned into him. Most men would have hit it over mid-on or mid-wicket, but Gilchrist used those steely wrists to loft that over mid-off. In fact, he hit it so hard that it crashed on to the fence and came some way back.

But then, it was probably too late — or was it? The next ball raced to the mid-wicket fence; the one after that went like a bullet over mid-off, flat, falling marginally short of the rope; the next was almost an encore, only wider.

123 from 72. They needed slightly more than 10 an over now.

Waugh sneaked a single off Cairns. Gilchrist cut one brutally for four, then went down on one knee to dispatch the next ball to the cover boundary. There was a mid-off, but Gilchrist lofted the last ball. The ball almost reached mid-off — but on its way back from the fence.

108 from 66. The asking rate was below 10. Gilchrist, having scored 22 off the first 52 balls he had faced, had got 32 off the next 10.

Adam Gilchrist biffs his way to a fifth-day 83 not out © Getty Images
Adam Gilchrist biffs his way to a fifth-day 83 not out © Getty Images

Waugh unleashed his famous slog-sweep next over, earning a boundary. Vettori dropped one short. Gilchrist smashed it back as hard as he could. Though he knew he was risking a finger or two, Vettori attempted to stop it.

The ball ricocheted off his finger. Waugh was short of his ground. He had scored a crucial 61. Australia needed 101 from 60 at a shade over 10.

Warne hit a meaty blow, but did not last long. A loose ball from Cairns found Gillespie’s glove, and Parore took a neat catch. Once again the Test had swung New Zealand’s way… or had it? Robinson stood there, firm, in no mood to raise his finger…

Gilchrist pulled Cairns for four before Australia shut down shop. He kept picking up the odd boundary, but it was evident that they were not going for the kill anymore.

They finished on 381 for 7, a mere 59 short. Gilchrist’s 83 not out had taken 109 balls, but that included a cautious start and a defensive endgame.

New Zealand finished the rain-dominated series without losing a Test. They were the ninth team to return from the Australian shores without a single defeat in a series. They were also the only side to do it between West Indies in 1989-90 and South Africa in 2012-13.

Brief scores:

New Zealand 534 for 9 decl. (Lou Vincent 104, Stephen Fleming 105, Nathan Astle 156*, Adam Parore 110; Jason Gillespie 3 for 112, Brett Lee 4 for 125) and 256 for 9 decl. (Lou Vincent 54, Chris Cairns 42, Nathan Astle 40; Brett Lee 4 for 56) drew with Australia 351 (Justin Langer 75, Mark Waugh 42, Damien Martyn 60, Shane Warne 99; Daniel Vettori 6 for 87) and 381 for 7 (Matthew Hayden 57, Mark Waugh 86, Steve Waugh 67, Adam Gilchrist 83*).

Man of the Match: Daniel Vettori.

Man of the Series: Justin Langer.

(Abhishek Mukherjee is the Chief Editor at CricketCountry and CricLife. He blogs here and can be followed on Twitter here.)