New Zealand hope to spoil the moment: “It’s always nice to mess up the Aussies’ plans,” says Lea Tahuhu
One of the must-do things in the picturesque setting of Mount Maunganui is to climb to the top of the extinct volcano which gives the town its name. On Sunday, Australia can scale their own peak.
It’s been a world-record attempt three years in the making. Back in March 2018, Australia beat India by eight wickets in Vadodara and since then they have not lost an ODI. Their run stands at 21 – equal with Ricky Ponting’s 2003 side – with New Zealand now standing in their way of setting a new mark.
World Cup wins will always hold a special place – not least the one just over a year ago on home soil – but though the team insist they do not talk about the record itself, that it is a byproduct of success, to not drop an ODI in such a long period of time is a remarkable achievement.
“How we mark ourselves being able to consistently win in different conditions is something we rate really highly,” head coach Matthew Mott said. “They are vastly different experiences. You can’t beat the euphoria of winning a final, particularly at the MCG in front of 87000 [people], but internally we do rate this very highly.”
Mott believes one of the key aspects that has kept the team motivated throughout has been the ICC Championship which decides qualification for the ODI World Cup and means every match in bilateral series that provide points is important – although this series will not carry that aspect with the next cycle having not yet started. There have also been memories of when the team has relaxed with a series won to allow the opposition a chance.
“One thing we should look to promote more is the ICC championship,” Mott, who sits on the ICC committee as a coaching representative, said. “Every series and match has a context. You don’t want to drop any games. I think it’s a great gauge of the success of a team, both home and away over a period of time. There’s no such thing as a dead rubber. It’s testimony to the way the players have stuck to it and finished off series is why we’re in this position.
“Thinking back to the  Ashes at home where we allowed England back in to level the series, it was very unsatisfying. I think that motivated the team in every match that we played. We don’t feel like we’ve overly dominated in any of those series and had a real easy ride. It is going to be a record that will stay for a while. If we get up in this one it’s a significant achievement in its own right.”
In a neat bit of symmetry, Australia have used 21 players across the 21 matches. Alyssa Healy, Rachael Haynes, Ashleigh Gardner and Beth Mooney have been the four ever-presents. Healy is the top run-scorer (1132 at 56.60) and Jess Jonassen the leading wicket-taker (39 at 12.64). Ellyse Perry’s numbers – batting average 60.90 and bowling return of 18.80 – leap off the page as well.
“The key to that consistency is the players themselves getting better and better,” Mott said. “We’ve got number of players in the ICC rankings in the top ten, that’s something we’ve focused on, that they’re getting better every year.”
Still, they will need to play well on Sunday. New Zealand have been buoyed by their shared T20I series and Australia’s top-order batting, albeit in a different format, has not clicked into top gear yet on tour.
However, the home side will again be without captain Sophie Devine who will take no part in the series after missing the last two T20Is with fatigue. Amy Satterthwaite will continue to lead but they will be boosted by the return of fast bowler Lea Tahuhu, although coach Bob Carter suggested it could be a choice between Tahuhu and offspinner Leigh Kasperek depending on the pitch.
“As I said earlier in the week, this is about prioritizing Sophie’s needs first,” Carter said. “It’s great to have Lea back in the mix, she’s an experienced player and gives our bowling attack another option.”
New Zealand have been hearing plenty about Australia’s world-record bid and they hope to spoil to occasion. “It would be fantastic,” Tahuhu said. “It’s always nice to mess up the Aussies’ plans and that’s what we’ll be looking to do.”
Andrew McGlashan is a deputy editor at ESPNcricinfo