Craig McDermott and Mike Whitney hold the Trans-Tasman Trophy

Craig McDermott and Mike Whitney with a long-awaited series trophy

© Getty Images

I Was There

'I'm still having therapy from that Boxing Day Test match in 1987'

Danny Morrison, Mike Whitney and Tony Dodemaide remember the last time New Zealand played a Boxing Day Test at the MCG. It was a thriller

Interviews by Alagappan Muthu  |  

Richard Hadlee is in a trance. It is his 70th over but the ball comes out like "it's been shot out of a cannon".

Those are Mike Whitney's words and he is a batsman in the way ice-cream is rocket fuel. He isn't equipped to survive against one of the greatest fast bowlers of all time.

It's the 1987-88 Boxing Day Test. Australia are 227 for 9, their target is 247 and there are still 15 minutes' play left.

Whitney: I remember putting my helmet on, and as I got to the door, Allan Border just tapped me on the shoulder. He didn't smile. He didn't do anything. He just looked at me as much to say, "F**k, get the 20 or f***in' bat it out."

The MCG is quiet, as quiet as any place with about 90,000 people in it can be.

Whitney: Then there's an announcement. "With the wicket that Richard Hadlee has just taken, he's equalled Ian Botham's world record." (laughs) And I just thought, "Awww man, so he needs one more." He's got like three overs to bowl. He needs me or Craig McDermott to be the new world record-holder, at the MCG, winning a Test match for his country and retaining the Trans-Tasman Cup.

It has been 32 years since New Zealand and Australia battled on Boxing Day. Stephen Fleming, New Zealand's longest serving captain, ended his career without ever getting to feel the singular thrill of leading his team out to face Australia the day after stuffing himself full of Christmas ham.

Danny Morrison, New Zealand fast bowler: Obviously with South Africa's re-entry [in 1991] and other teams with a bit bigger billing, you can probably argue, "Oh you poor little country cousins from across the Tasman are second tier." It will be fascinating to see with all that spice around it coming up this year.

"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'" Australia No. 11 Mike Whitney

Back to 1987. Whitney had been named in Australia's ODI squad for the upcoming World Series Cup featuring New Zealand, Sri Lanka and the hosts, and was planning to fly to Perth for the first game once the Test finished.

Whitney: I had my bag packed and I was just ready to go. All I had to do was take my tracksuit off, have a shower, get in my blazer and pants, have a couple of beers in the dressing room and off to Perth that night. Then the wickets started falling.

147 for 4 (Border), 176 for 5 (Steve Waugh), 209 for 6 (Peter Sleep), 209 for 7 (Mike Veletta), 216 for 8 (Greg Dyer), 227 for 9 (Tony Dodemaide).

Australia had done well until then. They stopped John Wright from scoring a century in the first innings. To this day, Wright's 99 remains the highest Test score by a New Zealander in Melbourne. Then they took the lead, which had looked impossible until Peter "Sounda" Sleep came in at No. 7 and played the innings of his life, alongside a debutant who had no idea what he was in for.

Tony Dodemaide, Australia fast bowler: I was in the squad for the first time, but I was there as injury cover for Merv Hughes, who was probably my best friend in cricket. We played in the same club side together in Melbourne. I never expected to play, not even on the morning of the game, because in the team meeting the night before, it was made pretty clear. Literally half an hour before the start of the game, Allan stopped me and said, "Merv's not gonna make it. You're in. Good luck." Then he turned on his heels and walked away.

And I'm standing there thinking, "Wait, I don't even have a playing kit!" But it was lucky that I was in Melbourne. The offices of the Australian Cricket Board were just across the road from the MCG and a fellow there that I know very well raced across to the store room, picked up a playing shirt, a jumper and a cap and brought them back just in time for us to go into the ground. It was all a bit of a scramble, but in hindsight it was probably good because I didn't have a lot of time to be nervous.

Being a Victorian, growing up with the whole grandeur of a Boxing Day Test, and to actually find myself participating in one in my first Test was so unreal.

Play 01:37

Wicketkeeper Ian Smith remembers the Test that was "taken away" from New Zealand

Dodemaide also ended up as the only Australian since Albert Trott in 1895 to score a fifty and take a five-for on debut. He added 80 with Sleep and then took six wickets in New Zealand's second innings.

Dodemaide: Peter was a very laid-back guy, so there was no big game plan. He'd hit one through the slips and come down and say, "Well, that didn't go to plan but we'll take it." And we'd just keep going. We'd just keep concentrating on what was in front of us and before we knew it, we were there for some time and got Australia back in the game.

The other thing I remember about Peter was, he had this old bat. It was obviously a favourite of his. It was an old Gray-Nicolls but I remember it had a chunk of wood out of the back of it between the two scoops and I looked at it and wondered if I was playing a park game of cricket as opposed to a Test match. He was really unfortunate to be out on 90 [in the first innings]. He deserved a hundred.

Dodemaide's 6 for 58 remained his best figures all the way through to his last first-class game in 1997-98

Dodemaide: I'd started my cricket bowling inswingers and cutters, but I didn't really have a lot of penetration. But my coach at the time, Ian Redpath, introduced me to Graham McKenzie, who was a great Australian fast bowler in the 1960s and '70s, and we had a chat. He suggested I adjust my action to bowl outswingers and it actually worked. At the start of the 1987-88 season, my rhythm was really good. I plugged away and got a couple of wickets, really through not anything exceptional.

One of them was New Zealand's greatest batsman, Martin Crowe.

"Literally half an hour before the start of the game, Allan stopped me and said, 'Merv [Hughes] is not gonna make it. You're in. Good luck.' And I'm standing there thinking, "Wait, I don't even have a playing kit!" Tony Dodemaide, who made his debut for Australia in the Test

Dodemaide: He was pretty well set at that stage and they were looking like making another sizeable total, so it was a matter of trying to dry him up and bowl line and length. From memory, there was nothing particularly special about the ball, except that we had built up a bit of pressure. He tried to play it a bit squarer than he perhaps might have and Allan Border took a great catch at slip.

New Zealand were dismissed for 287, setting Australia a target of 247 to get in a day. Most home fans were expecting a comfortable win, the first since Dennis Lillee, Greg Chappell and Rod Marsh retired in the summer of 1983-84.

Morrison: I remember it vividly. All the other Aussie journos the night before [the final day] thought Australia just had to keep their cool, be sensible and pick it off. But the great Tiger O'Reilly [former Australian legspinner] wrote: "This Test match has got all the makings of it going right down to the wire and being a very tense finish." He was the only one who gave it any hope of that.

New Zealand would have been optimistic about their chances too since they had Hadlee leading the attack. One of the world's leading allrounders, he averaged 21.06 with the ball against Australia and, on his last visit to the country, in a 2-1 win, he had taken 33 wickets, including 9 for 52 in Brisbane. Memories of that game were fresh and the hosts were willing to do anything to prevent a repeat.

Morrison: We got the bigger dressing room, the home dressing room, at the Gabba [the first Test]. And I remember John Bracewell immediately going, "Oh look at that. Superstition."

The crowd played its part too.

Morrison: They were just clapping and chanting "Hadlee is a w***er, tish tish tish tish tish" to irritate him and throw him off his course. And it actually did, in a way, because Richard got very upset and even spoke to the prime minister, Bob Hawke, up in Canberra. He said, "What's going on, Bob? I go down to the boundary and I have ten-year-olds calling me a w***er." Bob just laughed and said, "Mate, it's only because you're so good."

Danny Morrison bows to Allan Border (not in photo) after dismissing him in the Gabba Test earlier in the series

Danny Morrison bows to Allan Border (not in photo) after dismissing him in the Gabba Test earlier in the series © Getty Images

[In Melbourne] it was the last innings, the fourth innings, of a Test match. There's always drama around that. And I think at the end of the day it'd be like India having Kapil Dev or Pakistan having Imran Khan and England having Ian Botham. We had Superman. We had Richard Hadlee.

Hadlee had taken five in the first innings and would go on to take five more in the second. But Jeff Crowe, the New Zealand captain, still had to choose who would partner him at the other end - Ewen Chatfield, a man with 102 Test wickets to his name, or a 21-year-old fast bowler playing only his fourth international.

Morrison: I was pinching myself because I saw Jeff Crowe coming up to me, and he said, "Danny, we need you to finish this off. I'm entrusting you with this."

Morrison had played under Jeff Crowe for Auckland, and that familiarity, along with Morrison's extra pace, helped put him on a stage that was straight out of his fantasies, bowling the penultimate over of a thrilling game.

Morrison: You're just so ensconced in this whole situation. You're playing at the MCG. Lot of history there. As a teenager, wagging school and watching Botham bowling and nicking out Jeff Thomson in that wonderful Ashes Test when England won by three runs. So it had the hallmarks of a great drama. You've watched them on TV - the great Dennis Lillee nailing England in an Ashes series. It was dream stuff. You want to be playing in that environment and the opportunity came along and I had to go for it.

"Tiger O'Reilly wrote: 'This Test match has got all the makings of it going right down to the wire and being a very tense finish.' He was the only one who gave it any hope of that" Danny Morrison

With one wicket to get, Morrison tore up to the crease, generating devastating reverse swing. Craig McDermott was pinged on the pads before he could do anything about it. And the entire ground turned to umpire Dick French.

Morrison: The funny thing is, I think maybe Whit knew what was going on about an older ball, but certainly I didn't. I was just holding the ball seam up, looking to knock over McDermott. And it had come back just beautifully. It was almost like a homing missile and he missed it. You could see in the replays. 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.

If I'd been older and more experienced, I might have actually had a crack. Gone to the ump and gestured, "Are you kidding me?" But being so young, in my first [Test] series, I just got on with it. When you look back on it, you go, "Oh isn't it wonderful? That's professionalism." No, b****cks to that! I think if I'd been older, I'd have gone back and said, "Are you kidding me? Are you really..."

I moved to Australia in 2006-07 and I remember doing a coin toss for TV and Dick French happened to be the match referee. I introduced the two captains and then I went, "Oh and former international Test umpire Dick French is our match referee and I'm still having therapy from that Boxing Day Test match in 1987."

Though Whitney wasn't as young and inexperienced as Morrison, he still hadn't played a Test in six years, and now he was making the most decisive play that gave Border his first Test series win.

Whitney: I got to the middle and Craig McDermott punches me in the chest - lively - and says, we can get the 20 runs! And I went, "No, we can't. You'll have to get 'em all." Like, my batting average was about 4 at that stage.

Hadlee took ten wickets in the Test but couldn't give New Zealand a series win

Hadlee took ten wickets in the Test but couldn't give New Zealand a series win © Getty Images

Somehow we go into the last over and I'm on strike and the first thing I thought was, because McDermott was a pretty good batsman, he could hit a long ball, what am I doing down here? I looked up and he's already got his gloves off and he's sitting on his bat, which means he's not going to run!

So I go, "Watch the ball. Concentrate. Watch the ball." And I remember the last delivery: I just blocked and ran back into my crease, and Richard being Richard, he picked the ball up halfway down the wicket and threw it at the stumps, hoping that I wasn't in my ground, but I was. Yeah, competitive right to the last moment, unbelievable. 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." And I said, "Aw thanks, mate, I really, really appreciate it." It was a classic moment of amazing sportsmanship, cause they knew I couldn't bat. They all knew I was one of the worst No. 11s going around in world cricket.

Whitney returned to the dressing room with the match ball, which he eventually gave to Hadlee on the eve of the 2015 World Cup final. He hugged Border, said, "That one's for you, skip", and they all sang the team song.

Dodemaide: 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. 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. But as it turned out, the stage was set for Mike to have one of the great moments of his career - something he's renowned for even now.

Still, it was agony, particularly that last over. It seemed to go on forever. Everyone had a spot. No one was allowed to move.

Mike was a great competitor. He couldn't bat all that much but he was very, very proud and he'd always work hard in the nets and when he finally did it, we just swarmed him. His excitement levels were through the roof and since then he's gone on to become quite a celebrity here in Australia. In hindsight, I do take a bit of credit for that as well. I gave him the opportunity to make his name and he's made millions of dollars out of the fact that I got out!

"If I'd been older and more experienced, I might have actually had a crack. Gone to the ump and gestured, 'Are you kidding me?' Morrison on the leg-before appeal that umpire Dick French turned down

Whitney: 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. When they got off, there was this news everywhere that I'd saved the Test by blocking out three overs. They couldn't believe it.

Neither could the New Zealanders.

Morrison: We were all just so spent and frustrated. I was still in a bit of a trance, going, "Christ, what the hell just happened here?" I just remember being in high school and now I'm here at the MCG and shaking hands with Allan Border. It started to sink in more once we got into the dressing room.

My father lived there at the time. I had a very young half-sister and they came into the dressing room and that was a bit of an ice-breaker, in terms of just chilling, hanging out and licking your wounds. I had my future wife there too. She'd sold her car, left her job and come and joined me, so it was a blast, just talking to family, having Christmas with my father. Would have been lovely to make it 1-1 instead of 1-0. Man, that really was a series-changing lbw.

So, a New Zealand team fought back from the brink of defeat and looked set to win a beloved trophy, only to be done in by officiating.

*Goes to check boundary count*

New Zealand 65. Australia 55.

Alagappan Muthu is a sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo