It is quite a shame that Australia and New Zealand have played each other in only 52 Test matches since the inaugural one-off Test at Wellington in 1945-46. Despite their healthy rivalry, Test match fixtures between the two nations have been disappointingly infrequent.
That Test in 1945-46 played a part in Australia refusing to play their less-fancied neighbours from across the Tasman Sea. The game got over within two days, with New Zealand being shot out twice (for 42 and 54) on the second day. It took 28 years for the Australians to change their mind, and back-to-back series were contested in 1973-74. New Zealand managed to draw the home leg, courtesy a maiden five-wicket win at Christchurch.
The rivalry was at its fiercest in the eighties. The start of that decade saw the infamous underarm controversy – in a World Series 50-overs final – which snowballed to such an extent that it threatened diplomatic relations between Australia and New Zealand. It would not be wrong to say that this incident galvanised New Zealand into a combative unit whenever they faced the Aussies.
Since then until the end of that decade, New Zealand won five and lost three of the 14 Tests they played against Australia. It was a glorious period for the Kiwis, with the 1985-86 series win in Australia being their sweetest and probably, most vindictive success. Spearheaded by the legendary Richard Hadlee, New Zealand transformed into a top side and fittingly reserved their best for Australia.
Even during Australia’s dominant Steve Waugh era, New Zealand were one of the few sides who stood up to them on their own turf. A 0-0 scoreline in 2001-02 – the same season when South Africa were crushed in Australia – reflects their spirited performance. While New Zealand have never returned to their eighties heydays, they managed to level the most recent series between the two teams in 2011-12 with a thrilling win at Hobart.
That series in 2011-12 consisted of just two Test matches, depriving Test cricket lovers of a mouth-watering decider. The last time the two teams played each other in a three-Test series was in 2004-05. Their last three-Test series in New Zealand was back in 1985-86. In the last fifteen years, Australia have played New Zealand just 17 times. The corresponding figure for Australia’s Tests against England and India are 40 and 32 respectively. Since the last Trans-Tasman series and until the next, Australia will have played England 15 times and India 12 times.
Why this apathy towards Trans-Tasman Test matches? Cricket is missing out on a potentially great rivalry because of the commercial interests of forever-unsatisfied administrators and broadcasters. Australia have become so obsessed with playing England and India that they have failed to realise that the Black Caps provide for great opponents and some fantastic cricket. In 2011-12, it was New Zealand who drew in Australia despite getting just two Tests. In the same season, an over-rated India were thrashed 4-0. They say Trans-Tasman Tests do not bring in much revenue. I fail to understand why – the simple answer is effective marketing of the games. Building up the hype as in the Ashes will go a long way in attracting spectators.
Regional sporting rivalries tend to churn out some of the most memorable moments. At the moment, Australia and New Zealand have a great opportunity to lend much-needed flavour to Test cricket. Australia are, at least according to the ICC, the best team in the world. New Zealand are a team on the upswing with three successive series wins under their belt. Now is the time to decide on a proper Trans-Transman Trophy. Just like the Ashes, one home and one away series in every four-year cycle is a must, with at least three Tests played in each series. Two-Test series are akin to sacrilege, and should be done away with.
As of today, Australia and New Zealand both possess attacking captains, excellent pace bowling resources and a steady line of impressive batting talents. Michael Clarke being pitted against Brendon McCullum. Mitchell Johnson testing Kane Williamson. David Warner being challenged by Tim Southee and Trent Boult. Sounds exciting, doesn’t it? That is what Test cricket needs – novelty. While bringing in new nations is asking for too much, efforts should at least be made to revive existing rivalries. And Australia v New Zealand is too precious a fixture to be lost.
I, for one, am a big fan of Trans-Tasman Tests; it always makes for great viewing. And I am certain that most fans from both Australia and New Zealand share the same sentiment. Thankfully, in 2015-16, the two teams are scheduled – at least for now – to meet each other in back-to-back series at home and away. There is also the prospect of Test cricket under lights during New Zealand’s tour of Australia. In all probability, both teams will carry on with their current form over the next year or so, and thus these series will be much-awaited by the players and viewers alike.
History may suggest that the Trans-Tasman rivalry has been fairly one-sided over the years. But not everything should be judged by numbers of the past. Introducing a structured Trans-Transman Trophy would be of great benefit to Test cricket as a whole, and this is no exaggeration.
The ball is Cricket Australia’s court.