S Africa spoil the party again

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The Independent Online

New Zealand's centenary celebrations took a turn for the even worse yesterday when South Africa won the Test match in Auckland by 93 runs to deliver the latest blow to festivities that have turned into a nightmare.

Last month, West Indies handed New Zealand their worst-ever Test defeat - by an innings and 322 runs. The other Test in the short tour was a wash- out, but that did not spare New Zealand's blushes because they lost the one-day series 3-0.

A one-day tournament involving Australia, India and South Africa was only marginally more successful. New Zealand reached the final, where Australia beat them easily by six wickets.

The loss to Australia was a particularly bitter pill for the public to swallow. And after a huge crowd had attended the humiliating loss against West Indies in Wellington, the crowds at Auckland for the Centenary Test were poor.

This was particularly remarkable because the rivalry with South Africa has been intense since a hard-fought series between the two countries in 1953. Spectators barely numbered 6,000 on the first two days of the Test over the weekend, and were around 2,500 for the other three days. Rain on the first morning of the game also threatened to ruin the festivities.

Unfortunately, the stay-away fans missed five days of excellent cricket in a match that either side could have won, right until the final session of play.

Good news has been few and far between for the beleaguered New Zealanders. They came home from a disastrous tour of South Africa, where they were beaten 2-1 in the Test series and failed to win a one-day game, desperate to restore some lost prestige.

Instead, in a messy and bitter post-mortem, both their coach, Geoff Howarth, and their manager, Mike Sandlant, resigned, and three players were suspended because they had been smoking marijuana.

Martin Crowe, New Zealand's only world-class player, needed a century against South Africa to become the first player to score centuries against all the current Test nations. Instead, he failed twice and looked a shadow of his former self.

Crowe, who had knee surgery earlier this year, returned from a thigh muscle injury to play against South Africa, but scored just 16 in the first innings and 14 in the second innings.

New Zealand now face two Tests against Sri Lanka, which are unlikely to attract large crowds but at least may provide them with their best chance yet of a victory this summer.

"We have to treat it as an independent Test series," Ken Rutherford, the captain, said after the Centenary Test. "It's a chance to show at the end of the season that we have learnt from past mistakes."

The inexperienced Kerry Walmsley was yesterday named in a 12-man New Zealand squad for the first Test against Sri Lanka, which begins in Napier on Saturday.

The Auckland right-armer has played just three first-class matches, taking 12 wickets for 259 runs at an average of 21.58.

He won selection after a five-wicket haul and match figures of 6 for 93 for the New Zealand Academy XI against South Africa in Nelson last week.

The all-rounder Shane Thomson, who missed the Test against South Africa because of a knee injury, returns to the side, but the left-arm spinner Matthew Hart has been dropped. Three players - Chris Cairns, Martin Crowe and Simon Doull - are unavailable because of injury.

Scoreboard, Sporting Digest, page 39