Inglorious Days: The story of the 1994 tour to South Africa
It started innocuously enough. Just a few blokes sitting around drinking wine at a classy South African vineyard, when a musty, familiar odor caught a few nostrils.
Why not, eh?
Yet, once the infamous 1994 Kiwi cricket pot-smoking scandal in South Africa finally blew over months later, New Zealand Cricket’s credibility was so tarnished it took the best part of a decade to mend.
Three rising young stars had been hung out to dry, the coach and manager would quit - and the national squad was fissured with deep division.
Never mind the fact New Zealand had just become the first team since Australia, in 1888, to cough up a three-match test series after winning the first game.
As the Black Caps prepare to start the second test against South Africa at the Basin Reserve today, the kind of ineptitude displayed in the handling the pot-smoking debacle seems remote to New Zealand Cricket.
Sure, NZC held a gun to its own head for a spell during the bungled Ross Taylor-Brendon McCullum captaincy changeover in late 2012. Dirty laundry was aired and new-chief executive David White got a crash course in handling a PR debacle but, soon enough, everyone moved on and the seeds of the Black Caps’ stirring journey to the 2015 World Cup final were sown.
The damage from the ’94 South African tour didn’t simply dissipate. It lingered. Festered for almost a decade.
From the unnecessary recriminations of Stephen Fleming, Dion Nash and Matthew Hart (while others got off Scot-free) to the restructure of NZ Cricket’s administration, it was messy as hell.
“It was a minor aberration, blown out of all proportion,” tour skipper Ken Rutherford would tell the New Zealand Herald.
“Those three guys were all young and been given the fright of their lives in Paarl – at the time they were genuinely concerned for their careers.
“And to think that NZC knew that there were others involved, others who were far more senior and established than the three youngsters. It was pretty sick, really.”
It had all begun so promisingly, too, with history – of the good kind - threatening in a serious way.
The first Kiwi test side to travel to South Africa since John R. Reid’s tourists of 1961/62, New Zealand kicked off the tour with a famous first victory in Johannesburg in late November.
New Zealand won the first test by 137 runs after Rutherford made the surprise choice to bat first. It was the right call, as the Kiwis racked up 411 in their first innings - the highest total of the match. As the pitch deteriorated, the Kiwi bowlers rolled the hosts, who limped to 189 chasing 326 in their final dig.
Seamer Simon Doull and spinner Hart were the heroes in the last innings, taking 4/33 and 5/77 respectively as New Zealand nabbed their first win in the Republic since Reid’s mob.
Headlined by Rutherford and vice-captain Martin Crowe, who’d battle with a knee injury the entire tour, New Zealand were blooding four relatively new players on the international level in the Republic in Fleming (21), Hart (22), Nash (23) and Adam Parore (23).
A one-day quad series between the first and second tests was a disaster - New Zealand would lose five of its six games with the other washed out – but a first-ever test series victory against South Africa was still in the offing.
A final tour game against a Boland XI in Paarl on the eve of the second test just before Christmas 1994 was abandoned due to a dangerous pitch.
Twenty-two wickets fell on the first day as New Zealand made 86 batting first and the hosts made only 83, before the decision was made to pull the pin.
With time on their hands that evening, the players could relax. According to Stephen Fleming’s 2004 biography Balance of Power, penned by current NZC communications staffer Richard Boock, five players – Fleming, Nash, Bryan Young, Chris Pringle and Danny Morrison – were at the Nederburg Vineyard outside Paarl with two Boland players when the dope first appeared.
Fleming admits he took a sneaky puff before heading back to his hotel room for an early night.
The good times continued for some of the others, though. Several players – and allegedly players’ partners – partook in the odd draw at a barbecue at the hotel as the night meandered on.
With training called off due to rain the next day, word was out about the night before. Morrison had told Rutherford about what he’d seen, and management was looking for guilty culprits.
Nash came clean first, followed by Fleming and Hart.
“Nashy came back and said, “it’s sweet, I’ve taken the rap, just deny everything” and I said, “nah, you can’t do that – we’ll all stick together”, Fleming said, in Balance of Power.
“So I went in and [NZ manager] Mike Sandlant asked me if there was some marijuana smoked at the hotel. That was his next shock – he didn’t know there’d been some smoked earlier.”
After breaking for lunch, the investigation – players would be called in front of Rutherford, Sandlant and coach Geoff Howarth – continued, with all other players denying involvement.
“We got back to the hotel, and they called us in and they said, “look, you three, you’re the only three who have ‘fessed up, this is your first time, we realize you weren’t on your own, you’ve been fined $250. We know there’s more involved and we appreciate your honesty,” Fleming, again in Balance of Power.
If only it had been just that. Two humiliating test defeats in Durban and Cape Town – in performances Wisden would later describe as “suicidal” from New Zealand – would mean it wouldn’t.
In January 1995, the team was heading home in disgrace, and NZC wanted heads.
Howarth would quit, as would Sandlant, who was understood to have gotten wind that NZC were digging back into the pot affair.
Rod Fulton, the NZC director of cricket, would have a report on the tour made public, before feeling the axe from his employers because of it.
“Their behavior is endemic of the malaise that appears to have infected the game … this has been one of the darkest weeks in the history of our sport,” Peter McDermott, then the chairman of New Zealand Cricket, told media in one of the most hyperbolic statements in Kiwi sporting history.
Attention on Fleming, Hart and Nash intensified with the young trio concerned they had torpedoed their careers. That concern was abated when Dot Hart – Matthew’s mum – rang up RadioSport talkback and revealed that more than just the young trio were at fault in the Republic.
Why, NZC were asked, were these young fellas getting nailed for crimes that all their teammates were guilty of, too?
Fleming, Hart and Nash would all get three-match bans, missing the upcoming one-day series against the West Indies.
Pringle would later admit his involvement too, and would cop a suspension for “inadequately preparing for a test match.”