The Australians arrived in New Zealand in mid-February with drums banging and cymbals clanging, the most successful act in world cricket and confident they would add more headlines to their superb summer of achievements. Having overwhelmed Zimbabwe in Harare, and accounted for Pakistan and India in Australia, they needed one more win to equal the Australian record of eight consecutive Test victories, set by Warwick Armstrong's side in 1920-21 and 1921 against England. They had also won nine successive one-day internationals against Pakistan and India, and were keen to extend that winning sequence in six more games. In addition, Shane Warne was on the threshold of Dennis Lillee's record of 355 Test wickets for Australia. New Zealand seemed destined to linger among the side-shows while their visitors dominated the big top.
After wet weather delayed, interrupted and finally curtailed the first one-day international, Australia won the next four to create a record unbeaten run of 14 (13 victories) before losing the last game to New Zealand. Warne got his Australian record in the First Test, at Eden Park, and Australia's wins there and in the next two Tests gave them ten in a row - one away from the record established by Clive Lloyd's West Indians between April and December 1984. Australia had ended that run; to equal it, fate had already decreed, they would have to beat West Indies at Brisbane in November 2000.
Yet there were times when the Australians almost got themselves in a tangle, and they were gracious enough to suggest that New Zealand gave them much stiffer opposition in the Tests than Pakistan and India had. Steve Waugh, masterly as captain, batsman, and provider of straight-from-the-shoulder comments at press conferences, several times mentioned the way the New Zealanders kept fighting back, whether it was through their middle-order batsmen or with bowlers of modest fire-power. At Eden Park, on a surprisingly frisky pitch, New Zealand needed 281 to win, the highest score of the match, and, despite the habitual top-order batting failure, seemed possible winners at one stage. Overall, though, Waugh was closer to the truth when he maintained that his was one of the very best Australian sides. New Zealand, however gritty and competitive, were not strong enough to spoil their parade.
While the Australian batting also drew only modest opening stands, they had strong and consistent success after that from Damien Martyn, Justin Langer, whose aggregate of 288 took him past 1,000 Test runs for the summer, Steve and Mark Waugh, and the ballistic Adam Gilchrist. Michael Slater's century at Wellington more than offset his low scores otherwise. Brett Lee arrived in New Zealand as a novice Test fast bowler, took 18 Test wickets at 17.44, and returned home having displayed the skill and artistry of a future champion. Warne never seemed at peak form, but still claimed 15 wickets, while Glenn McGrath, the man of classical style, and Colin Miller each had 12. The Australian fielding was as aggressive as their batting and as accurate as their bowling.
The New Zealanders invariably suffered from weak starts by Matt Horne and Craig Spearman, and Mathew Sinclair's debut 214 against West Indies at the end of December was sadly reduced to a faint memory. The fact that New Zealand remained competitive was greatly to the credit of Stephen Fleming, a restored Craig McMillan and a belligerent Chris Cairns, the series' leading run-scorer with 341. There were useful contributions, too, from Adam Parore and Nathan Astle. When left-arm spinner Daniel Vettori took 12 wickets at Eden Park, including career-best figures and his 100th Test wicket, New Zealand could claim to have a subtle complement to Cairns's increasingly successful fast bowling. Unfortunately, Vettori damaged his back in the Second Test and could not play in the Third. For all that Shayne O'Connor and Paul Wiseman showed improvement as Test cricketers, Vettori's absence was confirmation, were it needed, that New Zealand still lacked another strike bowler of the highest class.
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