Rutherford recalls memorable win at Wanderers

Last updated 05:00 30/12/2012
Ken Rutherford
Reuters

YOU BEAUTY: Captain Ken Rutherford, right, celebrates victory with spinner Matthew Hart, who took 5-77.

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It has been more than 18 years since New Zealand last won a test match in South Africa. Ben Stanley relives five historic days at the new Wanderers Stadium in Johannesburg in November 1994. 

They say that, at the Wanderers, if you win the toss - look up, not down. Look to the skies and feel the sun on your face.

Think of how that sun might bake the wicket you stand on.

Forget how green and lush it might look. Five days of sun can turn a Johannesburg test wicket into a minefield. Winning the toss on a pitch like that is crucial.

When Ken Rutherford strode to the middle of the Wanderers on November 25, 1994, he couldn't feel any sun on his face. It was a cloudy, overcast morning on the opening day of the first of three tests between South Africa and New Zealand that summer.

The forecast indicated more of the same for the next few days.

Win the toss, bowl first; no doubt. South African captain Hansie Cronje greeted Rutherford in the middle. They shook hands and the hosts' skipper flicked the coin in the air. Rutherford's eyes followed the flight of the coin - and something caught his eye.

"Just as Hansie tossed the coin up in the air, I saw the sun peek from behind the clouds," Rutherford recalled to the Sunday Star-Times. "Now, you might think that is absolute bullshit but that actually happened."

The coin landed and it was Rutherford's call. "We'll bat," he told Cronje and the television cameras.

Up on the players' balcony, the New Zealand players saw their skipper talk to the camera first.

We're bowling, they thought.

The seam bowlers - Simon Doull, Richard de Groen and Dion Nash - began lacing up their boots.

Rutherford appeared in the sheds with a bemused look on his face. "What are you blokes doing?" he asked. "We're bowling, aren't we," one of the quicks replied.

Rutherford shook his head.

"No lads. We're batting."

"You should have seen the look on the openers, Bryan Young and Darrin Murray," he said. "You would have thought their mothers had died."

Coach Geoff Howarth pulled Rutherford aside and quizzed him about the decision.

"I said, mate it's going to be a beautiful sunny day.

"The green tinge is going to be gone after lunch and we're going to get lots of runs."

It had been more than 32 years since New Zealand and South Africa last played each other in a test in South Africa.

That series had been a beauty - drawn 2-2 in 1961-62 with John R Reid's side snaring New Zealand's first test victories on foreign soil.

Since their readmittance to test cricket in 1992, South Africa had played 17 tests before they took on New Zealand, winning six and notching series victories over India and Sri Lanka.

They weren't the titans of old but they were on the improve.

Cronje, Gary Kirsten and Daryll Cullinan were top batsmen, while Fanie de Villiers and Brian McMillan were fiery quicks.

Yet there was promise to the Kiwi side too, with the likes of a young Stephen Fleming and seam pair Doull and Nash complementing the experience of Rutherford and Martin Crowe.

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The hosts, however, were undoubtedly the favourites when Young and Murray headed to the middle to face the new ball attack of de Villiers and Richard Snell.

New Zealand had won only three tests since South Africa had rejoined the test fray - and hadn't won a test on foreign soil since Richard Hadlee and John Bracewell had destroyed India in Mumbai in November 1988.

Rutherford was in his first year as test skipper and his relationship with former captain Crowe, whose form was on the decline, remained strained.

Although new cap Murray departed early, the top order fought hard on the first day before reaching 242-4 at stumps.

The contributions of Fleming, dropped early in his 48, Crowe (83) and Rutherford (68) were important but it was the wag in the Kiwi tail the next day that would prove key.

All-rounder Shane Thomson played stylishly off the back foot to make 84 before Doull and de Groen put on a run-a-ball 57 for the final wicket to get through to a strong 411 all out.

Nash and de Groen then combined to remove South Africa's top three batsmen for 38 within an hour before Cullinan and Jonty Rhodes (37) nursed the hosts to the close at 109-4.

Cullinan departed for 58 the next morning but wicketkeeper Dave Richardson made a spirited 93 before South Africa were dismissed for 279, leaving New Zealand with a first-innings lead of 132.

With the sun continuing to cook the Wanderers' pitch, they would need every run of that - with de Villiers in devastating form for hosts. In his post-tea spell, the tall right-armer claimed the scalps of Crowe, Rutherford and Young in nine balls to leave New Zealand teetering at 34-5.

Another rearguard was needed - and again it was Thomson who responded. He and wicketkeeper Adam Parore took New Zealand through to stumps at 81-5 but Parore departed for 49 when caught behind early on the fourth morning.

Thomson continued to be the anchor, before being bowled by Snell for 29 - a knock coming off 104 balls over three hours.

Again the tailenders fronted up, however, with Nash (20), Doull (14 not out) and Matthew Hart (34) getting New Zealand through to 194 all out.

Their efforts set South Africa a victory target of 327. Historically, that was always going to be an uphill task. Before 1994, only eight teams had successfully chased a higher score to win a test.

More than that, South Africa had to contend with the Wanderers' pitch. As Rutherford had gambled on day one, the sun had cooked the lush wicket for the previous three days.

Gone was the pitch's fairness.

In its place was a dried, cracking deck - perfect for Hart and swing king Doull to take to the South African batting card.

"Honestly, there were cracks the size of the Grand Canyon by days four and five," Rutherford recalled.

"I remember Doully bowling one ball to Jonty Rhodes that hit a crack on a good length and went over the keeper's head for four byes."

The South African top order made it hard for New Zealand at first. At stumps on day four the hosts were 128-2 with Cronje and McMillan looking settled.

By then though, the pitch had nothing left for the batsmen and McMillan's dismissal, a dodgy leg-before by Doull, started a collapse in which the final seven South African wickets fell for 39 runs before lunch.

Hart, with career-best figures of 5-77, and Doull, with 4-33, were the giant killers - with Hart's bowling of Clive Eksteen ensuring a historic Kiwi victory by 137 runs.

The victory would prove the high-water mark of a tour that then spiralled out of control for the New Zealanders.

While their celebrations from the test remain legion in cricketing circles, the Paarl dope-smoking incident is the moment that will forever be synonymous with that particular summer of cricket.

In a series pock-marked by poor umpiring, New Zealand lost the next two test matches - becoming the first team since England in 1888 to lose a series after winning the first test.

But regardless of the self-destruction that followed, the victory at the Wanderers still stands as one of New Zealand's great test victories.

One likely decided on the first morning, when Rutherford's eyes caught sunlight sneaking around a cloud.

Look up, not down. Words that won New Zealand a test match 18 years ago. Words that the current crop of Kiwi cricketers might like to remember with a towering task at hand.

- Sunday Star Times

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