"And umpire French says no."
Just five small words from New Zealand cricket's complicated history, but a jarring soundtrack to the end of an era.
New Zealand return to the Melbourne Cricket Ground for this year's Boxing Day test. They haven't played in whites on the big ground since December 30, 1987.
You probably know how it went. Danny Morrison delivered a devilish inswinger to Craig McDermott on the penultimate ball of the penultimate over. It clipped McDermott's front pad, then hit his back leg before ballooning short of the slip cordon.
The appeal for leg before was beseeching. A wicket would have won New Zealand the match and levelled a three-match series laced with controversy.
Umpire Dick French crouched low, seemingly poised to lower the hangman's noose on McDermott, before standing bolt upright and shaking his head.
Umpire French said no.
Morrison rocked back, prone on the short brown grass. In the background you can see wicketkeeper Ian Smith hide his face behind his keeping glove, no doubt muttering to the gathered slips fielders about the vagaries of life.
Seven balls later the test was drawn.
The stories of the two countries involved diverge here: In Australia, the match is remembered for the heroics of the likeable Mike Whitney, a rabbit's rabbit, surviving the final over from Sir Richard Hadlee; in New Zealand, it is all about the LBW that wasn't.
It is not just the match narrative that veers off in different directions. So too do the cricketing fortunes of the antipodean rivals.
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It signalled the beginning of the end of a bleak period in Australia's proud history, the nadir being twin home-and-away test series losses to New Zealand in 1985-86. It marked the beginning of the end for New Zealand's golden age, the zenith being twin home-and-away series victories against Australia.
New Zealand were beginning to play on old legs. Cricket Australia had that year launched its famed academy that would eventually belch out some of the greatest cricketers to live.
It is nonsense to think that French's intervention, or lack of, would have changed anything. The wrongdoing of one decision was immaterial beyond the specific match and series, but if nothing else it put a punctuation mark on New Zealand's first prolonged golden age of cricket.
That team had two greats – Hadlee and Martin Crowe – and a number of very goods, like Andrew Jones, Ian Smith and John Wright. Morrison, John Bracewell, Jeff Crowe, Ewen Chatfield and Dipak Patel all rate highly for honest service. Of the eleven, only Phil Horne (4) played less than 37 tests. They were a deep and experienced side.
All would stick around for a while longer. Hadlee was the first to retire in 1990 and Jones and Crowe were the last to hang on, playing their final tests in 1995, but the magic of the 80s was fading fast. After Melbourne, New Zealand would play nine more tests in the decade and win just once.
The 90s mainly sucked.
In the years since, New Zealand have played Australia in tests 33 more times. They have won three times. Nine have been drawn. You do the maths.
A little bit of the magic went when umpire French said no.
The MCG, in the days before neutrality, was a place of cartoonishly poor umpiring and New Zealand often seemed to be on the receiving end. Spurred on by the drunks in Bay 13, Australian umpires appeared to be intoxicated by the attention a good controversy could stir.
In 1980, Robin Bailhache stunned New Zealand when he denied Lance Cairns the wicket of Jim Higgs because of "intimidatory" bowling and resulted in the closest thing you'll ever see to a New Zealand cricket team leaving the field in rebellion;
In 1981, umpires Dick Weser and Peter Cronin first refused to send Greg Chappell on his way when he was brilliantly caught by Martin Snedden in the outfield, then gave Richard Hadlee out to an atrocious LBW in the final over of a one-day match that will always be remembered for Trevor Chappell bowling the final delivery underarm.
In this 1987 Boxing Day match, standing at square leg, French gave the okay for Tony Crafter to give Andrew Jones caught behind down the leg side for 40, despite Greg "It was a scramble of gloves" Dyer clearly picking the ball off the ground after dropping it.
So New Zealand should have gone into the 1987 Boxing Day test knowing that most of the 60-40s, let alone 50-50s, would not go their way.
They'd been hammered at the Gabba and drawn a run-fest at the Adelaide Oval before arriving in Melbourne for Christmas. They lost the toss and were inserted. Wright (99) was at his obstinate best and Crowe continued his love affair with Australian pitches by scoring 82.
When Hadlee and Bracewell reduced Australia to 213-7, a big first innings lead was on the cards, but a stubborn rearguard took the hosts to 357 and a lead of 40.
Crowe (79) again inspired a decent New Zealand batting effort on a wearing wicket and Australia were left with a fifth-day target of 247.
When Hadlee took his fifth wicket of the innings and 10th of the match, Australia were 227-9 and 15 minutes from safety.
Then umpire French said no.
It was Dick French's last test, his parting gift. A whole bunch of Aussie bastards have followed in his footsteps, like Darrell Hair and Steve Randell (an actual villain, as opposed to a pantomime one), but since 2002, with the implementation of neutral umpires at both ends, they haven't been able to hurt New Zealand any more.
Still, the little brother keeps getting beaten up by big brother – often badly.
That glimmer of hope for parity that flickered more than 30 years ago has long been extinguished.
A few years ago, I sourced a number for French from a veteran cricket scribe who described him as a cheerful, sprightly old man living, if memory serves, in Sydney's northern suburbs.
I called the number. I didn't want to harangue him. I mean, for God's sake, it's a game of cricket; no one was lost at sea.
(Now would be a good time to mention that although we play the victim well, New Zealand benefited often from similarly egregious "home" umpiring during the 80s.)
All I wanted to ask was, having seen replays of Morrison's delivery, whether he thinks he made the right call and, if so, which part of middle stump did he think it was missing.
I also wanted to know whether a part of him thought it was amusing, maybe a little pathetic, that one decision he made out of thousands during his career still prompted such angst across the Tasman.
He didn't answer. I'm not sure who did, but I outlined my request.
The same someone came back on the line.
Umpire French says no.