A Boxing Day Test Thriller – Australia v New Zealand 1987

Mike Whitney’s greatest Test Match moment came against New Zealand at the MCG.

Despite their status as our closest cricketing rival, our friends across the ditch have very rarely graced the grandest stage in Australian cricket, the MCG. So infrequent have their visits to the G been, that when New Zealand take their place there on Boxing Day 2019, it will be just the fourth time they play a Test Match at the grand old ground. When they left the field in 1987, after one of the most extraordinary conclusions to a Test Match played on these shores it would have been unfathomable to think it would be 32 years before they returned.


With Australia 1-0 up in the series, New Zealand’s hold on the Trans Tasman Trophy was loosening as the teams headed to Melbourne for the final Test of the three-match series. Without a series victory since the resignation of Kim Hughes as skipper, for Allan Border’s Australian team, a breakthrough series win was in the offing. For the visitors, coming off drawn series against Sri Lanka and the mighty West Indies, victory would preserve their almost three year unbeaten Test series run.

Perhaps the best team to represent New Zealand, the Kiwis had every reason to be confident. Martin Crowe, Andrew Jones, and John Wright were in sublime touch with the willow and Richard Hadlee was within touching distance of the Word Record for Test Wickets as they headed to the MCG. The Aussies, on the other hand, were less advanced in their development and suffered two major injury blows in the lead up to the Third Test.

The withdrawal of Bruce Reid and Merv Hughes, the latter on the morning of the game, left Craig McDermott to lead an inexperienced bowling attack. Six years after his second Test, Mike Whitney was brought in to replace Reid while Tony Dodemaide was brought in for his Test Match debut to replace Hughes.

So late was Hughes’ withdrawal and Dodemaide’s resultant call up, the 24-year-old made his way to the ground without a playing kit. Fortunately, the ACB offices were just across the road from the MCG and a runner was dispatched to try and locate a shirt, jumper, and cap for Dodemaide to wear. “It was all a bit of a scramble,” Dodemaide told The Cricket Monthly in 2019. “But in hindsight, it was probably good because I didn’t have a lot of time to be nervous,” he recalled.

Despite their relative inexperience and the chaotic nature of their selections, both Dodemaide and Whitney would have a telling impact on the result.

Controversy Overshadows McDermott’s Day

Craig McDermott was the star after Border won the toss and elected to field. Bowling 25 overs, the big Queenslander took four wickets on the opening day but all anybody wanted to discuss after stumps was the dismissal of Andrew Jones. Having endured the twin indignities of losing a wicket for intimidating bowling eight years earlier, just months before the underarm delivery, it would prove to be another in a growing list of grievances for New Zealand.

“In my opinion there is absolutely no doubt that that ball has hit the ground and wicketkeeper Dyer has claimed a catch which doesn’t look to me as if it was one.” Is how Tony Greig reacted on Channel Nine when replays of Andrew Jones’ dismissal became available and appeared to show the ball touching the ground between juggling attempts by the Aussie keeper.

New Zealand cricket manager Gren Alabaster, refused to be drawn specifically on the matter. “It’s very difficult for the umpires and there’s no doubting their experience,” he said when questioned at stumps before pointedly adding. “But most of the time umpires make decisions in favour of the batsman if they are in doubt about it.”

Dyer sought the opportunity to meet with Jones and Kiwi skipper Jeff Crowe to discuss the matter but was vetoed by Australian management. In 2015 he continued to protest his innocence when interviewed by The Age. “If somebody has hit it and it hasn’t carried or I knew I hadn’t caught it, I never appealed for a catch in my life and never would. That sort of integrity is very important to me.”

Despite affording Dyer the benefit of the doubt, the whole situation must have been particularly galling for the Kiwis. In the drawn Second Test, Allan Border recorded a double century after being recalled to the crease when his opposite number Jeff Crowe was unsure if he completed a catch cleanly. A fact reflected in New Zealand newspapers the following day that proclaimed ‘Dyer the Liar’.

Wright (99), Jones, and Martin Crowe (82) were the backbone of the Kiwis First Innings as Craig McDermott claimed a deserved 5/97. Despite a fighting 44 from Ian Smith, Mike Whitney cleaned up the New Zealand tail restricting the visitors to a first-innings total of 317.

Border’s Error Clear as Top Order Fails

“I made a mistake in not batting first on the MCG after, winning the toss,” Border told the press a the conclusion of the match. While these comments came after Day 5, his error in declining first use of the pitch would have been apparent to him at lunch on Day 2 with his top order removed with the score only 31. Peter Sleep with a career-high 90, and the Aussie tail would prove the saviours of the innings. Half-centuries from Steve Waugh and Tony Dodemaide and 33 from Craig McDermott, saw the last five wickets combine for 236 after the first five managed just 121.

Take a look back at the day AB spun Australia to victory against the West Indies.

Dodemaide continued his good work in the Kiwi’s second innings claiming 6-58 and in doing so became the first Australian since Albert Trott in 1895 to score a 50 and take five wickets in an innings on Test debut. It would not be his only history-making moment of the summer. Just a week later on ODI debut, he became the first man to take five wickets in an innings on Test and ODI debut. Remarkably, despite these auspicious beginnings, he would play just 10 Tests and 24 ODI’s for his country.

On the back of the debutant’s heroics, Australia bowled New Zealand out for 286 early on the fifth morning leaving them an eminently gettable 247 to win. It meant that the MCG was full of anticipation as the hosts set about securing a long-awaited series victory. For New Zealand, with their greatest ever bowler in the team, there was an equal sense of anticipation of a remarkable last day victory. “We always thought we had a chance,” New Zealand skipper Jeff Crowe recalled. “We had runs on the board and Richard Hadlee… he is a Superman.”

Last Session Heroics

The Australian’s were 1-52 at lunch after the loss of Geoff Marsh for 23, needing 195 runs in 68 overs. At tea, they remained in the running at 3-137 despite the loss of Dean Jones for eight and David Boon for 54. Little did the 24,000 people in attendance know but they were in for a last session to remember. Two members of the crowd not convinced that the last two hours would offer much entertainment were Mike Whitney’s mother and sister.

“My mother and sister had come to the ground. They lived in Sydney and they’d come down to watch it, and they were that convinced we’d win the game that they left at tea and got a plane home,” Whitney often recalls. Needless to say they received the shock of their lives when they landed and learned of the final result and the role that the future ‘Who Dares Wins’ host played in it.

The drama unfolded slowly as the Aussies pressed for the series sealing win. Allan Border was the first to fall, lbw to Hadlee for 43 with the score 4/147. Steve Waugh and Mike Veletta combined for 29 before the future Aussie skipper was removed by Ewen Chatfield. First Innings hero, Peter Sleep, joined Veletta and their 33 run partnership put victory well within reach before Richard Hadlee turned the match on its head.

The New Zealand champ removed Sleep, Greg Dyer and Dodemaide, as the Aussies lost 4/18 and lurched dangerously towards defeat with 15 minutes to play. The dismissal of Dodemaide was a historic one, as it saw Hadlee join Ian Botham on a World Record 383 Test Wickets. It also brought Whitney to the middle with a Test record of four runs from five innings. Despite already having bowled over 70 overs for the match, the record-breaking and series leveling wicket appeared inevitable.

Craig McDermott was one of a very few number of people who held a different view and let Whitney know when he came to the wicket. “I got to the middle and Craig McDermott punches me in the chest and says we can get the 20 runs! And I went, ‘No we can’t. You’ll have to get ’em all,” Whitney recalled when interviewed by Cricket Monthly years later.

One last controversy

“New Zealand cricket’s relationship with the MCG has not been that flash if you go back even before that through the ’80s, the underarm game of course, that Boxing Day Test match.

Ian Smith 2019

While Hadlee was the headline act, it was 21-year-old Danny Morrison who looked to have won the Test for New Zealand when he wrapped McDermott on the pads with seven balls remaining in the day. “It was missing leg and missing off. It looked like it would cannon into middle, halfway up,” Morrison recounted to Stuff in 2017.

Umpire Dick French saw things differently, however, and remained unconvinced in the face of New Zealand’s enthusiastic appeal. “We all go up for the lbw, and I was just rolling on my back, and I’ll never forget looking at the beautiful clear blue sky in Melbourne thinking, he’s not given it, he’s not gonna give it, so let’s just get back up on our feet and get on with it,” Morrison remembered in 2019.

McDermott would see off the last ball of the over leaving Whitney to survive six balls from the best bowler in the world to save the match and the series for Australia. As the number 11 prepared to face the biggest challenge of his career, ninth man out Dodemaide was experiencing his own unique torture in the dressing room.

“I was gutted getting out for 3 because I was the ninth man, and suddenly, after all the hard work we’d done in the series, there was the prospect that it would all slip away,” Dodemaide told Cricket Monthly in 2019. “I still had my pads on and I couldn’t watch the game because I was thinking if Richard had got the last wicket, I was partly to blame for getting out so late. So from having such a great debut, I thought I’d messed it up right at the end.”

On the edge of their seats the Australian players watched on helplessly from the players viewing area. “It seemed to go on forever. Everyone had a spot. No one was allowed to move,” Dodemaide recalled.

With fielders surrounding Whitney primed and ready for any chance that came their way, Hadlee dug deep into his reserves of energy in search of one more wicket. With each defensive prod, leave, and play and miss, the number 11’s confidence grew along with the visitors’ desperation. With the tension palpable, Whitney secured the draw with one last defensive shot to the game’s final delivery. Having seen off the world’s best bowler he could not contain his emotion as the Australians celebrated their first series win under captain Allan Border.

Magnanimous to the end, despite ending up on the wrong end of the result, Hadlee made a conscious effort to congratulate Whitney and provided a fitting postscript to five days of intense and gripping competition. “The crowd goes nuts, but to Richard’s credit, if you look at the footage, he put his arm around me and tapped me on the helmet and said to me, “You did a great thing for Australian cricket today, Whit,” the Aussie remembered years later.

Little did Hadlee know how true his words were, just seven weeks after the team’s triumph in the World Cup Final, this series victory was another important step in Australia’s return to the top of world cricket. While Dodemaide and Whitney would ultimately prove peripheral figures in the rise, their efforts in this match will forever hold a special place in the Australian Cricket folklore.

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