Not just a Borderline case

Updated: Dec 12, 2019, 07:20 IST | Clayton Murzello | Mumbai

Australia captain-turned-TV pundit has good reason to believe that the Kiwis can do what they did to his team in the summer of 1985-86

Kane Williamson and Tim Paine pose with the Trans Tasman Trophy. Pic/Getty Images
Kane Williamson and Tim Paine pose with the Trans Tasman Trophy. Pic/Getty Images

Clayton MurzelloAustralian batting great Allan Border believes Kane Williamson's men are thoroughly capable of beating Australia in the three-match Test series that opens with the pink ball Test in Perth today. Border was captain of Australia when the Kiwis beat their neighbours in a Test series for the first and last time — in the Australian summer of 1985-86 — Border's first full home season as skipper. His favourable comments on the New Zealanders are based on the fact that the Kiwis have done well to be placed at No 2 in the Test rankings with India leading the pack.

"They are not the superstar-type blokes but they get the job done. They hunt as a pack very well... they're a really good solid unit. It definitely is their best chance to win a series since '85 because they've got most bases covered as a team," he said on Fox Cricket.

New Zealand have not lost a Test series since South Africa won 1-0 in 2016-17 after which they played West Indies, England & Sri Lanka (twice), Pakistan and Bangladesh. That said, Australia will pose a big challenge; ditto the fitness of the NZ players. And the first ball they face or deliver will be the first of the tour. So much for preparation and acclimatisation! But as Border said the other day, "I rate them very highly...they're scrappers." Although Border went on to be one of the finest captains Australia produced, the Kiwis of 1985-86 gave him a torrid time. His team was at the receiving end of hard-nosed opponents, led by Jeremy Coney and assisted in no small measure by the redoubtable Richard Hadlee.

Coney, the tall all-rounder had big shoes to fill, replacing Geoff Howarth, who save one series against Pakistan, had led New Zealand since 1979-80. Howarth ended his career as one of two captains to beat Clive Lloyd's all-conquering West Indians in a Test series (Greg Chappell was the other). Captaincy was a childhood dream for Coney, who made his Test debut against the Australians in Sydney way back in 1974 as a replacement call-up for the injured Glenn Turner.

Former all-rounder Lance Cairns included a fascinating story on Coney in his book, Give It A Heave where he revealed that his teammate arrived in Australia for his debut series ill equipped in the true sense of the term. "He [Coney] bought with him one club bat, with a broken handle. He had one pair of cricket boots, with the sole of one boot taped up, one pair of whites, one shirt," Cairns wrote. Team manager Bob Vance felt sorry for Coney and gave him $100 to buy some gear, but he bought himself a 12-string guitar instead.

Anyway, when it came to 1985-86, Coney's New Zealanders were on song right from the first Test. Like most series in Australia, the series opened at the Gabba in Brisbane where Coney put the opposition in. Hadlee thrived as he was expected to do in overcast conditions and after Australia ended the day with 146 for four, Hadlee allowed them to score only 33 runs the next morning before they were bowled out for 179. He claimed nine for 52 which may have prompted his music-loving captain to hum Leo Sayer's 1974 hit, One Man Band.

The conditions became easier for batting and New Zealand's decent batting line-up was not going to throw it away. Martin Crowe put his Duncan Fearnley Magnum bat to full use and carved 188 in authoritative style and put on 224 with John Reid for the third wicket. Coney declared at 553-7 and the Australians did better in the second innings with 333 thanks to centuries by Border and new boy Greg Matthews. But that was not good enough to stop Hadlee (6-71 this time) and an innings defeat. "The Kiwis had given us a nice old bath. We could not have imagined a worse way to start an international summer," Border wrote in his 1986 autobiography.

Australia hit back in the next Test at Sydney where they won by four wickets. They had a better spin attack for the turning pitch in Ray Bright, Matthews and Bib Holland. New Zealand fielded John Bracewell and Stephen Boock. While Holland claimed 10 wickets in his home Test, David Boon shrugged off his first innings duck to score 81 in pursuit of the 260-run target. The New Zealanders wouldn't have been proud with the way they handled the turning ball, but Bracewell and Boock were mighty chuffed over their 124-run 10th wicket stand in the first innings.

Border felt that his team had "come to grips" with Hadlee's bowling and said so before the third and final Test at Perth. He regretted it because Hadlee heard those comments and claimed 11 (one short of his predicted dozen) in New Zealand's six wicket-win which earned them their first ever series win over Australia. It was achieved on a poor, relaid Perth pitch but Coney was not complaining. While the loss caused Border to wonder whether he was the right man to lead his country, Coney recalled his cricket scrapbook days.

"You dream that one day maybe I will be captain of New Zealand and maybe it will be a winning side. Today was the realisation of that dream," Coney told the media.

It was a summer that provided very little joy for the hosts on the Test match front and the World Series Cup triangular series win (New Zealand and India were the other two teams) provided some solace to the under-fire captain.

New Zealand's competitive veins show up unfailingly and Border knows it all too well having played 23 Tests and 52 ODIs against them. No wonder he is convinced that Kane is able!

mid-day's group sports editor Clayton Murzello is a purist with an open stance. He tweets @ClaytonMurzello Send your feedback to mailbag@mid-day.com

The views expressed in this column are the individual's and don't represent those of the paper

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