Australia 3 New Zealand 0: Not the rugby score

On the eve of the Rugby World Cup semi-final between Australia and New Zealand, it’s worth looking another rivalry between the two countries that wasn’t quite as intense as it should be.

Australia and New Zealand have completed their three meetings in the current, and protracted, ODI tri-series with India. Australia has swept the series-within-a-series 3-0. In the unlikely event that New Zealand can roll India in the final league match at Hyderabad on Saturday, Australia will get a fourth crack at them in the final at Eden Gardens, Kolkata on Tuesday night.

It could hardly be seen as an omen for the rugby, however, as the All Black are expected to cream the Wallabies on their way to beat (bold prediction ahead) France for the Webb Ellis Trophy.

Back at the cricket, the first of the three meetings, at Faridabad on October 29, was a horrendous mismatch. New Zealand batted first in the early morning conditions and were rolled for 97, Australia winning by nine wickets and exactly 33 and a third overs to spare. A game all over by about half an hour after lunch.

Another early morning collapse at Pune on November 3, although this time NZ were sent into bat by Ricky Ponting. From 21 for 4 and 68 for 5, New Zealand were able to recover to 258 for 9 with some fine batting from Jacob Oram (81) and Brendon McCallum (51*). They were, for a while, in a great position to win the game, thanks to Daryl Tuffey’s 4/30, but the fielding fell apart at the end. Two sitters put down off the last two balls of the game saw Australia through to a two-wicket win off 49.5 overs. An extraordinary game that one.

Stephen Fleming put the top-order jitters down to the moving ball at the absurdly early start of 8.30am. His conspiracy theory was that India played all their games as day-night encounters, and all the games not involving India were shunted off to venues without proper floodlighting. Say hello to commercial realities, Phlegm.

Another post-breakfast start at Guwahati on November 9, and Australia were put into bat by His Flemness. Thirty-four for three in the sixth over, you call that a collapse? But Australia made it to 225 for 7, a masterful 84 not out from Michael Bevan pushing things along. It was afternoon, however, when New Zealand crashed to 181 all out in 45.3 overs, to lose by 44 runs.

Australia’s ODI winning run against New Zealand is now six on the trot, beginning with that remarkable game at the MCG in January 2002 when Michael Bevan scored 102 not out to take Australia to victory after being 82 for 6. The next meeting was dismal – Australia winning by 164 runs in that forgettable ICC “Champions Trophy” in Colombo in September 2002. And then there was that extraordinary match in the World Cup Super Six round at Port Elizabeth, where Bevan and Bichel batted Australia back into the game before Brett Lee blew New Zealand away.

Australia versus New Zealand in cricket should be one of the sport’s great rivalries – they turn on great encounters in rugby league, rugby union, netball, and indeed women’s cricket. So why isn’t it?

It only really became intense in the eighties in the wake of the Underarm Incident, and afterwards when a mighty captain in Jeremy Coney led a team which included a genius named Richard Hadlee. While there have been some enthralling Test encounters – the 2001-02 three Test series was as good a 0-0 draw as one could ask for – the Australian authorities have always packed them off to the lesser venues such as Perth and Hobart. No Christmas-New Year MCG or SCG Tests for the Kiwis.

Cricket needs its own Bledisloe Cup for Australia-New Zealand rivalry. While Test cricket between the two needs a lift in profile (and sadly it looks like NZ will yet again play second fiddle to South Africa in the 2004-05 Australian season), they could do no worse than match up each winter under the roof at the Telstra Dome in Melbourne for a three-match ODI series. It would be a chance to get a new tradition rolling, and keep cricket’s profile up during the footy season.

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