It wasn’t supposed to be this easy. New Zealand are the world number two now, and Australia are way down in fifth spot. Sure, we drew with England in England, which was a big deal, but that was only fourth versus fifth, a mid-table clash. The home victory against Pakistan meant even less, as Pakistan are ranked even lower. But New Zealand was a different matter again. This was supposed to be close. New Zealand were supposed to win.
We didn’t even pick the best grounds for us. We wasted them against Pakistan. Perth Stadium is new for everyone, but is still very WACA-like, albeit a bit cleaner with less variation and less of a breeze. The MCG was a minefield in the recent Sheffield Shield match, so much so that the match had to be abandoned.
In fairness to New Zealand, they didn’t lose by an innings. The margin was just 247 runs. Mind you, had Australia enforced the follow-on, they would have won by an innings and 79 runs, assuming that the bowlers weren’t too tired. Australia had a 319 run lead on the first innings, and you would normally enforce the follow-on with that kind of a lead. It was 467 to 148. It wasn’t close. It was a disaster.
Let’s backtrack a little.
Joe Burns was out first ball, to a bad shot, to be honest. He was yet to find his rhythm and Trent Boult, returning from injury, bowled a good one. It was good bowling versus bad batting, and good bowling won out. New Zealand erupted in celebration. They were ahead!
But that was just about it. David Warner and Marnus Labuschagne are in too much form to fall for something like that. Steve Smith is still in amazing form, even if his scores aren’t showing it, and then we got to the vulnerable numbers 5 and 6, to Matthew Wade who averages just 30 in test cricket, having spent most of his career as a wicket keeper, and to Travis Head, who was dumped during the Ashes. They had a hope.
But then that hope was taken from them. Wade scored 38, then Tim Paine came in, and scored his highest score in 10 years, almost his first ever test century too, on his way to 79, and, as for Travis Head, he scored his first ever test century.
Australia should have been all out for 150, 200 tops, but instead they got all the way to 467.
It might have been more too, but for the tailenders going for run rate more than runs.
Why Kane Williamson decided to bowl first defies belief. It probably didn’t really matter, as the MCG isn’t exactly a win the toss and win the match kind of ground – that ground is awaiting both teams in Sydney. Just the same, MCG isn’t a bowl first ground either. It’s hard to bat on early, yes, but then it flattens out, and Australia more than did enough to survive.
There was no early injury to use as an excuse either. While Trent Boult did injure his hand while batting, that was too late to make any difference to the result. He even bowled in spite of the injury.
Tom Blundell, as a curiosity, came into the side to replace Jeet Raval, the out of form opener who was oddly given yet another chance in the 1st test, and then failed, and he did a whole lot better, so much better that the question has to be asked why he wasn’t there in the first place.
Sure, Blundell has never opened before, not even at first class level, but that’s no reason to keep him out. The guy averaged 68 in test cricket before this match began, and scored exactly his average – 136 runs, split between a first innings 15 and a second innings 121. We shouldn’t have been surprised, as that was his average day out. He had a full beard during his first innings 15, and was clean-shaved for his second innings 121, which may or may not have been the difference. It seems certain that he will be playing beardless for the foreseeable future.
I have to ask, though, why Raval was in the side to begin with, and why Blundell wasn’t. It wasn’t some fluke of an innings – he is just that good. Sure, he might not average exactly 68 for the rest of his career, but he will surely do better than Raval.
Mitchell Santner’s inclusion continues to defy belief. He can’t bowl, and his batting is far too weak to be included purely as a batsman. If they wanted to play a spin bowler, why not play Ajaz Patel? He wasn’t in the squad, but he probably should have been. Santner can’t be justified any longer. Even at the SCG surely he can’t be picked.
This is not a weak side, though. This is a strong side who should be doing better. Australia are the weak side, or at least they are supposed to be.
Joe Burns looks bad, and his position is far from certain beyond this series, but everyone else looks likely to keep their spot. Travis Head came good, while Matthew Wade is showing how good he really is, and David Warner just shows that the Ashes performance was an anomaly.
Pat Cummins was fantastic, almost getting a hat-trick, and that against top order players, on his way to a five wicket haul, then James Pattinson looked the best he has looked since his comeback, and has a hint of that best player in Australia form about him. Mitchell Starc looked great too, even if he wasn’t taking enough wickets. And Nathan Lyon was at his best too.
There were just no holes!
Well, besides Joe Burns. That was a hole. The Third test may be his last chance. There is a chance even that he will be replaced.
It’s funny to think that Travis Head was almost dumped for this match so that Michael Neser could make his debut and we’d play an extra bowler. Instead, Head got his first test century and this first man of the match award.
Could they play Neser for the Third Test? Who would open along with Warner?
Australia will probably go in unchanged, and New Zealand, will need to replace Boult and perhaps Santner as well.
It’s a miserable series for New Zealand and a triumphant one for Australia, so good that it’s suspicious.
Something is about to go wrong here. I can feel it in my bones.