Australia finished the one-day series as they began the tour to sweep an empty contest 5-0. Ricky Ponting's clean-hitting dominance, which lit up the inaugural Twenty20 match, was again displayed in a near-perfect 141 at Napier that grabbed Australia a massive 347 for 5, and New Zealand, as they had been in the previous four matches, were flattened. Martin Snedden, the NZ Cricket chief executive, called it "the series from hell".
The damage from this result will last until the 2007 World Cup for New Zealand, who dropped a spot to No. 3 in the ICC's rankings and will probably now line up in the same group as England in the West Indies. But the more pressing concern is how much this disaster will affect them in the Test series, which starts at Christchurch on Thursday. "We've been well and truly thumped and it's hard to take," admitted Stephen Fleming. "We've got to cop it on the chin and we will become a better side."
Since the close first game at Wellington, Australia have dismissed all challenges with frightful disdain, and must have considered a tilt at the magical 400 after Adam Gilchrist brutally bashed 91 from 61 balls and departed by the 19th over. Instead Australia settled for 53 less than that, and victory by 122 runs.
Ponting collected a brilliant century that was the one aspect missing from Gilchrist's opening, and lifted the highest score for an Australian against New Zealand. While Gilchrist went berserk Ponting's play was overlooked, but it was appreciated once he departed.
Opening with a burst of back-foot boundaries, Ponting was more patient than Gilchrist, and increased his pace as he grew more comfortable, signing off in style with consecutive sixes from the final two balls. The second landed on the square-leg grandstand roof before bouncing over the back - like New Zealand's morale. His 17th one-day hundred came from 110 balls, including eight fours and two sixes, and he finished with a ground-record score from 127 deliveries.
It was a powerful end, built on an explosive start from Gilchrist. Before the game Allan Border, the selector, was worried that Gilchrist hadn't played well in the past 15 games, but he can stop frowning. When Australia had picked up 107 from 15 overs it seemed like 400 was a possibility as Gilchrist plastered nine fours and four sixes. The rate slowed when he was dismissed to a tame pop-drive to Craig Cumming at cover, and he was upset to lose the chance of pocketing rarely considered individual and team records (129 for 2).
Ponting settled himself, and then set about lifting the rate with entertaining stands alongside Damien Martyn (40) and Michael Clarke, with whom he added 43 in a closing partnership of 94 in 10.2 overs. New Zealand's fast men were again treated like junior net bowlers, and the situation was not helped when Chris Cairns hobbled off with a hamstring injury and stayed in the dressing-room. Daniel Vettori managed the incredible feat of giving up only 37 runs from his ten overs when there was carnage all around.
Tama Canning's comeback was forgettable apart from Gilchrist's wicket, and he spilled 80 runs, while Kyle Mills went for 67. Lance Hamilton was also treated badly for 76 on his home ground. A real-estate agent, Hamilton closed his first international sale in his second meeting when Simon Katich under-edged a pull (37 for 1). He started well but sagged when attacked by Gilchrist and then Ponting. He was not the only one to suffer.
The batsmen were quickly facing equivalent pressure when they were caught between Michael Kasprowicz and Brett Lee in their final jostle for favour before the first Test. Kasprowicz collected more wickets, but Lee was the scarier as they combined for three early blows that shut down New Zealand.
Lee's early pace was the fastest of the series and his first over contained a wide recorded at 160kph and a 160.8kph (100mph) outswinger to Cumming, who fell lbw in his fifth over (39 for 1). Fleming fought past Lee and then made the mistake of relaxing to Kasprowicz, edging him to Adam Gilchrist for 35. Kasprowicz followed next ball with the wicket of James Marshall, playing on to his pad and then the stumps, and was denied a strong hat-trick appeal by David Shepherd to an inswinger than hit Craig McMillan's pad before his bat (60 for 3). It was a timely reminder of his worth, and he collected 3 for 36 off ten overs.
Producing his side's best batting performance, McMillan hulked 63 from 69 balls in an innings that could have ended when Andrew Symonds caught him at cover. Shepherd appeared to give McMillan out, but he held his ground and doubt swept over the ground. He stayed before holing out thinking of a six off Symonds, who then collected Brendon McCullum to a similar thought process (196 for 6). The match drifted towards its conclusion, but the overall upshot was strikingly clear.
Finishing the series with a record one-day ranking of 140 points, Australia drive into the three Tests with immeasurable momentum. For New Zealand, though, the suffering has continued over a contest that rarely reached the intensity of a top-of-the-world battle.