Qantas Tour of NZ 2018
The night cricket's future arrived
On Friday night, Australia and New Zealand will again meet in a T20 at the venue that hosted an historic first back in 2005
Much like those few dozen who genuinely turned up to Manchester’s Lesser Free Trade Hall on June 4, 1976 to see the Sex Pistols violently re-calibrate popular music, only a minority of the 29,317 at a rugby stadium in Auckland 13 years ago understood they were eyewitnesses to a revolution.
So novel was the 20-overs-per-side game when its first men's international was staged that only a handful of players – Australia’s Mike Hussey and James Hopes, along with New Zealand’s Stephen Fleming and Andre Adams – could claim any experience when the match started on a clement Thursday evening at Eden Park.
Hussey and Hopes were in an Australia A line-up a month earlier for a Twenty20 (as it was then known) game scheduled at Adelaide Oval to help the touring Pakistan team transition from an abject Test campaign into an ODI tournament that ultimately proved almost as unrewarding.
The Black Caps’ pair had tasted the bold, new concept on the county circuit in England where it had been pioneered in 2003 to attract a fresher, younger clientele to cricket grounds and was paired with other after-hours frolics such as speed dating and bubblegum pop acts to achieve that aim.
Similarly untried were the tactics the trans-Tasman rivals would take into the first men's international (the first women's T20I having been played six months earlier in the UK) on 17 February 2005, which had been extensively marketed with a ‘Back to the ‘80s’ theme and was in essence a fringe show to engage fans and players for the five-match ODI series and three Tests to follow.
The hosts prepped by having their star hitters – Adams, Chris Cairns, Brendon McCullum and Craig McMillan – take to the middle of Eden Park’s adjoining training ground on match eve to face baseball-style throw downs, at which they heaved like competition wood choppers.
The boutique timber grandstand at the venue’s southern end, and a few imperilled onlookers cowering within it, bore the brunt of the drill until Cairns put a thumping drive through a ground- level window pane at which point the exercise was abandoned.
The Australians’ warm-up was even less arduous, having flown into Auckland barely 24 hours before the coin toss which made skipper Ricky Ponting’s pre-game observation that the occasion was more substantial than a globally sanctioned scratch match sound a little hollow.
Eden Park has proved as daunting as it is hostile to almost 100 years of visiting rugby teams, but Ponting arrived with a squad so strong he could opt to exclude opener Matthew Hayden due to recent patchy form and scarcely missed leg spinner Shane Warne who had quit white-ball cricket two years earlier.
“We’ll be treating it very seriously … it’s the tour opener as far as we’re concerned,” Ponting earnestly told reporters who had gathered on match eve in a function room at the famous ground that was ringed by photographs of former football greats.
Indeed, along with the retro-feel to promote cricket’s shiny new thing, the lure for many local fans awaiting the imminent return of rugby season was the return to cricket of dual international Jeff ‘Goldie’ Wilson who had played 60 Tests for the All-Blacks since his most recent ODI outing against Allan Border’s 1993 touring team.
But there was also a pragmatic need for New Zealand Cricket to pioneer at elite level what was seen by many as a vehicle to peddle the game to non-traditional markets after previously failed attempts through six-a-side tournaments, Greg Chappell’s Super Eights concept and Cricket Max, the brainchild of NZ legend Martin Crowe.
Forever fighting a battle with rugby for the hearts and eyeballs of sports fans, NZC had seen their 2004-05 scheduling across the Christmas-New Year holiday period disappear in the tragic aftermath of the Boxing Day tsunami that compelled the touring Sri Lanka team to urgently return home.
While Ashes contests provide the benchmark for the game’s players and promoters in Australia, the most marketable cricket rivalry for NZ lies across ‘the ditch’ and the lure of scoring a point or two at the expense of their bigger, brasher neighbour.
So a chance to stage the inaugural T20 international - given Australia held that honour for Test (in 1877) and ODI (1971) cricket - compounded by a real opportunity to trap their swaggering visitors in unfamiliar terrain represented a slice of heaven for the underdog Kiwis.
Not only did the unforeseen hiatus in their summer program grant the Black Caps time to familiarise themselves with the 20-over game while the Australians slogged through an 11-match ODI tri-series at home, it provided some clear air to whip up interest in a format that held no profile in either country.
The ‘Back to the 80s’ theme tapped into New Zealanders’ new-found fondness for the beige uniforms their teams wore during their golden days in the polyester era, and an outpouring from fans for the players to go further and embrace retro hairstyles was also embraced.
The latter abetted by the lack of international fixturing that meant outrageous afros and porn-star moustaches could be cultivated amid the relative anonymity of the NZ domestic playing circuit.
The sight of Eden Park (prior to its 2010 redevelopment) heaving near capacity surprised the touring Australians almost as much as the effort the hosts had put into their fancy-dress outfits.
Ponting’s men felt they had entered sufficiently into the spirit by donning the lurid yellow body shirts of the World Series Cricket days – the game’s previous watershed – although Michael Kasprowicz doubled down with a Dennis Lillee-style towelling headband.
And proudly revealed pre-game that he had also been working on his version of the Lillee mid-pitch appeal – fully facing the umpire, in semi-squat with both index fingers raised to the sky.
It was a pose he got to assume a few times when he tore through New Zealand’s top-order as their kamikaze pursuit of Australia’s hefty 214 ultimately left them 44 runs shy, with Glenn McGrath mockingly threatening to reprise the infamous 1981 underarm delivery on the game’s ultimate ball.
Given that the usually thrifty McGrath bled runs at 12 per over, and NZ’s big four cleared the fence just twice between them despite the time spent on their range hitting a day earlier, it seemed the only player to come truly to grips with the abbreviated format was the total novice, Ponting.
For two and half years, as the T20 game gained traction everywhere but India - who refused to recognise the format until compelled to compete at the 2007 ICC World T20, which they won – Ponting’s maiden innings of 98 from 55 balls stood as its high watermark.
It featured eight fours and five sixes at a venue so compact it could hardly tolerate any further foreshortening of boundaries, and included 30 taken from a single over by seamer Darryl Tuffey.
Only a couple of untimely leg byes in the final over and Hussey’s occupation at the striker’s end for the last deliveries prevented Ponting rather than the West Indies’ Chris Gayle (in September, 2007) owning the maiden hundred in 20-over internationals.
Asked post-match if he could recall previous occasions when he had deposited a bowler beyond the fences at long-off, long-on, mid-wicket and backward square in the space of a six-ball over, Ponting candidly conceded “probably not since primary school cricket”.
"I think it is difficult to play seriously because you have to go out and play almost against the way you would normally,” he went on to say, sharing the view of most at Eden Park that evening who hardly believed they were watching the dawn of cricket’s most lucrative iteration.
Although Ponting was sufficiently prescient to add: “If it does become an international game then I’m sure the novelty won’t be there all the time, it will become a bit more serious.”
So seriously has it evolved that Ponting is currently working as assistant coach with Australia’s standalone T20 squad back in New Zealand, having gained a reputation worldwide as one of the keenest analysts of the 20-over game that now dominates the cricket landscape.
He and Fleming, rival captains in that 2005 cabaret act designed more so to celebrate the past than ring in the future, are both now influential off-field lieutenants in the Indian Premier League that stands as the most enticing, most popular event on the global cricket calendar.
An outcome that some in attendance that evening might have fleetingly entertained as a sort of dystopian vision, but could not earnestly foretell to have played out by the time the untried, unproved concept reached adolescence.
“Traditionalists will doubtless blanch at what is little more than backyard slogging, but cricket authorities see the influx of previously uninterested fans and a new stream of revenue and will soon program Twenty20 games in droves,” the at-ground reporter for a national Australian newspaper boldly shrilled next morning.
Not quite the seminal moment that led Morrissey to form The Smiths or drove a couple of local lads to race out and buy guitars and start a group that would become Joy Division, but an evening rightly remembered as one when cricket quite unknowingly unfurled its future.
Trans-Tasman T20 Tri-Series
First T20I Australia beat New Zealand by seven wickets. Scorecard
Second T20I Australia beat England by five wickets. Scorecard
Third T20I Australia beat England by seven wickets. Scorecard
Fourth T20I New Zealand beat England by 12 runs. Scorecard
Fifth T20I NZ v Australia, Eden Park, February 16
Sixth T20I NZ v England, Seddon Park, February 18
Final TBC, Eden Park, February 21
Australia squad: David Warner (c), Aaron Finch (vc), Ashton Agar, Alex Carey, Ben Dwarshuis, Travis Head, Chris Lynn, Glenn Maxwell, Kane Richardson, D'Arcy Short, Billy Stanlake, Marcus Stoinis, Andrew Tye, Adam Zampa.
England squad: Eoin Morgan (c), Sam Billings, Jos Buttler, Sam Curran, Tom Curran, Liam Dawson, Alex Hales, Chris Jordan, Dawid Malan, Liam Plunkett, Adil Rashid, Jason Roy, Ben Stokes, James Vince, David Willey, Mark Wood.
New Zealand squad: Kane Williamson (c), Tom Blundell, Trent Boult, Tom Bruce, Colin de Grandhomme, Martin Guptill, Anaru Kitchen, Colin Munro, Seth Rance, Mitchell Santner, Ish Sodhi, Tim Southee, Ross Taylor, Ben Wheeler.