Australia, fresh from a 2-0 drubbing of Pakistan, both by an innings, were all set to face World Number Two New Zealand. It was supposed to be close. We had given New Zealand every chance too, by playing at our three worst grounds, of Perth Stadium, MCG and SCG. At least we knew who our best team was. The only player who was really in any doubt was Travis Head, though there was nobody obvious to replace him.
New Zealand, for their part, did not have their best team available, with Trent Boult missing due to injury and Jeet Raval way out of form. Colin de Grandhomme, the promising all-rounder, was also under an injury cloud, but was ultimately cleared to play.
Ultimately, New Zealand decided to risk Colin de Grandhomme but not Trent Boult, with Lockie Ferguson coming in to replace the renowned fast bowler.
But luck was not with New Zealand as their replacement bowler Ferguson ended up suffering his own injury after bowling just 11 overs and was unable to play for the rest of the match. I have to wonder if perhaps Boult would have been a better option after all.
Australia tried to destroy New Zealand, like they had destroyed Pakistan, but they weren’t quite good enough. Instead of scoring 97, Joe Burns managed just 9, off another dubious LBW decision that he failed to refer. David Warner looked great until he fell to a brilliant caught and bowled for 43. But there was a sense of inevitability about it, that this was like Pakistan again, only slightly better, but not good enough to beat Australia. The New Zealand bowlers were better than Pakistan’s, and there was a sense that their batsmen would be better too, and they would show more fight, but it was never quite enough.
The difference, perhaps, was Marnus Labuschagne, who kept going even as others fell around him. Smith continued his run of non-half centuries by managing just 43, with Wade managing just 12, but then Travis Head offered just the right kind of resistance with a much-needed 56 and, with Labuschagne scoring his third century in three innings, on his way to 143, just seven shy of being the third player to score three 150s in consecutive innings, the match looked won.
400 gave New Zealand some chance, but with Australia having four frontline bowlers to New Zealand’s 3, they were always coming from a deficit.
Then good news struck for New Zealand, and for the contest, but not for Josh Hazlewood, as he found himself unable to continue his over after he suffered a hamstring injury.
It levelled the contest and made it good to watch, but Mitchell Starc just kicked it up a gear and New Zealand’s batsmen were wanting. Not even the mercurial Kane Williamson could rescue New Zealand.
Looking at the scoreboard, it doesn’t look like New Zealand fought, but they sure did, it’s just that they were coming from so far behind, and Mitchell Starc in particular was relentless.
Australia could have enforced the follow-on, with 416 versus 166 and a lead of 250, but, with a bowler short, they wanted to recover, so batted again.
The victory looked inevitable, but New Zealand fought, bowling Australia all out, or at least nine down, for 217, with Josh Hazlewood not wanting to risk further injury and not batting, but the target of 468 for victory always looked far too much.
There were moments of fight but the target was too high and the bowling too good, and, with victory in their sights, Australia rushed on, as New Zealand lost their last 5 wickets for 17 runs and the match was wrapped up, with Australia winning by 296 runs.
Australia would have won by an innings had they enforced the follow-on, except that they wouldn’t have. With a bowler short, had they enforced the follow-on, they probably would have been too tired. The rest was much-needed.
While the scoreboard might suggest it was a two-man effort, of Labuschagne and Starc, that was far from the truth, as every one of Australia’s 10 fit players fought and combined to do their best. There was Nathan Lyon on a hat-trick, Pat Cummins being hard to get away, and all of the fight from every batsman that went out there, with not a single failure amongst them, save for the injury to Josh Hazlewood.
New Zealand played well too, for their part, from the nagging bowling of Neil Wagner through to the mercurial efforts of Colin de Grandhomme, and the batting prowess of the old guard of Kane Williamson and Ross Taylor, everyone played their part. They had failures, such as the twin disappointments of the out-of-form Jeet Raval, and the ineffectiveness of Mitchell Santner, but there was a whole lot of fight on show too.
Whenever Australia and New Zealand play, it is not so much like two titans as it is two brothers, the older brother Australia teasing the little brother New Zealand, who wants nothing more than to beat his older and more experienced sibling.
With two tests to play, New Zealand may yet win this series, but on the form on display here, the more likely result is that Australia may well win all three tests. But whichever way it goes, it will be very entertaining.