A lot has been written and spoken about Shane Warne in recent days, much of it quite beautiful and touching.
I can’t really add much that is new, but I did think it was worth shining a light on a tour that always seems to be ignored in his development as a Test player – namely, the trip to New Zealand in February-March 1993.
Most account of Warne’s Test career mention the ‘greatest hits’ of his early days: the 1-150 against India, the recall against Sri Lanka and that spell of 3-11 to win the first Test, the 7-52 against the West Indies… then of course the Ball of the Century in England in 1993, which really launched him into the stratosphere.
Australia versus New Zealand in 1992-93 tends to get overlooked, at least in Australia – the series wasn’t broadcast here, and was sandwiched between two classic series that were the 92-93 Sir Frank Worrell Trophy and the 1993 Ashes.
I remember reading a few biographies of Warne that don’t even mention it, despite featuring three Tests and five ODIs. The tour might be more famous in New Zealand, particularly for fans of Danny Morrison and Ken Rutherford who both played exceptionally well. To any Kiwi fans who stumble upon this article, I’d love to know what you think.
Looking back, the Australian team was full of champions but it was a side very much in flux at the time. We had our certainties – David Boon, Allan Border, Ian Healy, Craig McDermott, Merv Hughes – but there was an unsettled aura.
Everyone wanted Boon at 3 but he had to open as Australia hadn’t found a replacement for Geoff Marsh, Steve Waugh, recently recalled to the Test side, didn’t seem a natural number three, Mark Waugh suffered a shocking run of outs and was lucky to keep his place, Dean Jones had only just been dropped from the Test side but was still in the ODI team, two young tyros, Justin Langer and Damien Martyn, had only just made their international debuts (I’m still annoyed Tom Moody never got a crack over the 92-93 summer), Mark Taylor had just been dropped for the fifth Test against the West Indies, Bruce Reid had fallen injured again, Tim May had only recently been recalled, and patience had run out for Greg Matthews.
And indeed the team wouldn’t really click until it got to England, when Michael Slater partnered Taylor, Boon went down to 3 and Steve Waugh to 6.
The New Zealand side of 1993 wasn’t one of their all-time greats (Richard Hadlee had just retired) but it was pretty solid – you had players like Martin Crowe, Mark Greatbach, Andrew Jones, Chris Cairns, John Wright and Danny Morrison.
And Australia had lost the Trans-Tasman Trophy to the New Zealanders in 1989-90 and not won a series across the Tasman since 1976-77.
Anyway, Warne started the tour in a very Warnie way, leaving his passport at home – he was issued a provisional one by customs in Sydney.
His first challenge was a tour game against the NZ Board XI, which included Crowe. Before the match, the great New Zealander tried to play mind games against the new spinner, saying, “I think probably Shane knows about me and I know that he hasn’t got a reputation yet. So I guess one of us is going to be worried early on.”
It seemed to work: Crowe proceeded to score 163 in that game, with Warne taking 0-60 from 16 overs. In the second innings Border kept Warne away from Crowe, only letting the Victorian bowl at the lower order, and Warne took 2-21.
“I didn’t want him to bowl at too many of the high order batters just to keep a bit of mystery about it,” said Border at the time.
The next tour game was a 50-over affair against the New Zealand Presidents XI. Warne went for 0-35, being hit for two sixes by Ken Rutherford, who scored 97.
Prior to the first Test, journos were saying it was a toss-up between Warne and fellow tweaker Tim May as to who would play as the spinner. (Remember, May had only just gotten 5-9 against the West Indies in Adelaide).
The selectors eventually picked Warne with Border calling him “a match winner in the second innings and bowling at the tail”. After all, he had already won Australia two Tests. Few shows of faith would be more rewarded.
Australia batted first and scored 485 (Warne 22 not out), then dismissed New Zealand for 182, Warne taking 3-23 (including getting the top scorer, Ken Rutherford). Border enforced the follow on and New Zealand were done for 243, with Warne earning figures of 4-64, including Rutherford again, who again had been New Zealand’s top scorer.
It was Australia’s first Test victory in New Zealand since 1981-82 and Warne was anointed man of the match.
“I think we underestimated him purely because we’d never seen him before,” said Rutherford after the game. “Martin [Crowe] got a hundred off him in New Plymouth and smashed him everywhere, so we all thought probably we could do it as well.”
The second Test was at Basin Reserve, where New Zealand had not lost a Test since 1967-68. It was a rain-shortened game: the locals batted first and made 329 (Warne 2-59), Australia were dismissed for 298 (Danny Morrison, who had a magnificent series, took 7-89); New Zealand were 7-210 in their second innings (Warne 2-49) when the game ended in a draw.
From all accounts Warne bowled well, but the most lively thing about this Test seems to have been the post-game press conferences, where Martin Crowe accused a journalist of implying he was gay and admitting he was demoralised by talk over whether he should remain captain.
Warne injured his foot before the third Test so there was doubt he would play but he soldier on. Australia batted first but their top order sunk to the occasion, as it so often did under Border’s captaincy, and we made only 139 (Morrison 6-37).
New Zealand managed 224 in response with Warne taking an incredible 4-8 off 15 overs – it was weird in hindsight that he bowled less overs than McDermott, Hughes, and Reiffel and only one more than Steve Waugh. Australia scored 285 for the second innings (Dipak Patel 5-93) and New Zealand chased down the 201 to win with five wickets in hand (Warne 2-54).
It was a quintessential Australia-under-Border-in-the-early-90s effort… we had several chances to win the game (and the series) but blew it/them (as Australia would against the West Indies in 1990-91 and 92-93, and against South Africa home and away in 93-94, and at the 1991-92 World Cup). Border was an amazing cricketer but Australia needed Mark Taylor to shift them up to the next level.
Anyway, Warne was Australia’s top wicket-taker for the series with 17 scalps at 15.05, beating Dennis Lillee’s Australian record of 15 wickets for a Test series in New Zealand (Hughes and McDermott got 13 each – Danny Morrison took 17 wickets at 19.94). Warne’s economy rate had been 1.6 runs an over. Martin Crowe said Warne had “the mark of a potentially great leg spin bowler”.
The Test series was followed by five ODIs (Dean Jones joined the team for these). Warne had not yet played an ODI, such was the prejudice against leg spinners in white ball cricket at the time. He ended up only playing one ODI, the third, where he took 2-40, though in fairness he might’ve played the last two had he not sprained his thumb.
It was actually a thrilling series, won by Australia 3-2 with two of the games being especially close (one wicket and three runs).
It was really weird looking back at that tour of New Zealand in 1993. There was some terrific, hard-fought cricket. Shane Warne bowled magnificently and Australia played mostly well but couldn’t get on top of New Zealand.
But that’s not what’s odd. It’s that Warne, Jones and Crowe have all passed now. So too has Peter Roebuck, who covered the series as a correspondent. Chris Cairns almost died, has bowel cancer and is paralysed beneath the waist.
Time is promised to no one. Hug your loved ones next time you see them.
This was a really interesting series, it should be better remembered.