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England holds special allure for Kiwis

PTI | ByJohn Mehaffey (Reuters), London
Jun 07, 2004 03:49 PM IST

Even though colonial bonds have worn thin, a tour of England retains a special allure for Kiwis.

Even though the old colonial bonds have worn thin to the point of invisibility, a tour of England retains a special allure for New Zealand cricketers.

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Motivation before the three-Test series opening at Lord's on Thursday will not be a problem. After the first official Test at Lancaster Park in Christchurch in 1930, New Zealanders had to wait a further 58 years before finally beating their old imperial masters.

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Although the balance has been redressed somewhat since New Zealand cricket came of age in the 1980s, England's overall wins-to-losses count of 38-7 would still represent a sound thrashing on a rugby pitch.

Two of the New Zealand victories came on their 1999 tour, when Stephen Fleming's team recovered from losing a Test they should have won to take the four-Test series 2-1, with wins in London at Lord's and The Oval.

In response, the English papers poured scorn on their team, who had slumped to the bottom of the Test table, and even the magisterial Wisden annual concentrated on England's deficiencies rather than the Kiwis' virtues.

Chris Cairns, who came of age in that series with his vibrant pace bowling and a match-winning innings at The Oval, still detects a lack of respect for New Zealand cricket.

"I could not be more motivated for my final tour as a New Zealand Test player," he wrote before the start of the current tour. "We didn't receive the praise we deserved in 1999 when we defeated England 2-1 and were also a little disappointed the West Indies appear to be top billing this summer. New Zealand cricket never gets the recognition it deserves."

DISTANT SECOND

For most of the 20th century, the summer sport came a distant second to rugby, the one sporting area in which a small country could challenge and mostly defeat their adversaries.

"There's no question that being a New Zealander was a bad start in a cricketing sense," said Richard Hadlee, the finest cricketer produced by the island nation.

"We all lacked confidence at birth, I guess. We were the nice guys. Other countries would rub their hands when they played the Kiwis."

England were the foremost beneficiaries after Australia decided New Zealand were not worth playing in official Test matches between 1946 and 1974. Their batsmen boosted their averages, their bowlers enhanced their aggregates and that elusive first victory receded further over a distant horizon.

"We were expected to lose every match, even by our most ardent supporters," added Hadlee. "If we drew, we'd done well, if we actually won a game, unbelievable. We'd declare a national holiday."

NATIONAL MOURNING

March 28, 1955, became a national day of mourning. Disbelieving spectators watched in shock as Len Hutton's side dismissed the home team for 26, still the lowest total on the books.

New Zealand, yet to win a Test against anybody, were warned that the 1958 tour of England could be cancelled if they did not show a palpable improvement. Under John Reid they rallied to win a match against West Indies in the following season and the tour was saved, although only rain prevented a 5-0 series whitewash.

Following the bleak 1950s, New Zealand improved, although progress was fitful until the mid-1970s.

The breakthrough against England came at Wellington's Basin Reserve in 1978 when the young tearaway Hadlee helped bowl his side to victory.

Five years later, now a sophisticated master of seam and swing, he failed to take a wicket but did score 75 as New Zealand won their first Test in England. Within a year, Hadlee recovered from a nervous breakdown to score 99 in Christchurch in a 1-0 home series win and two years later he took 10 wickets at Nottingham to take the Kiwis to another 1-0 series victory.

Knighted during his final tour of England in 1990, Hadlee's retirement along with a host of his team mates led to a prolonged slump in New Zealand cricket, which finally revived in the last years of the century under Fleming.

Fleming, the most experienced international captain and widely regarded as the shrewdest, agrees with Cairns that New Zealand have been historically under-rated. But the man who has led his country to 20 Test wins, more than any of his predecessors, does not necessarily see a problem.

"There's a lot of countries who think they're better than us," he said. "And within that lies an opportunity. If you're smart enough."

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