Often the most exciting Tests owe their tense, nail-biting finishes to varying degrees of incompetence which help set up their fascinating finales. Edgbaston 2005 is the finest example, as despite a vast amount of brilliant cricket it took England’s batsmen collapsing in a heap around Andrew Flintoff to even give Australia a sniff. This week’s clash in Hobart, where the home side had never previously lost a Test, was no exception. Every innings saw a collapse of some description, and ultimately New Zealand prevailed by not quite snatching defeat from the jaws of victory, having just about managed to haul victory from the gaping gnashers of defeat not long before.
Oh Australia. If it wasn’t so funny it would be a bit sad. Their ex-players in the commentary box, the thousands of fans voting on Channel 9’s ridiculous polls, even the print media still seem to believe their team is as fantastic as it was a decade ago. Even now, after almost four years in which they have lost more Tests than anyone bar Bangladesh and West Indies, they react to defeats such as this with surprise and disbelief. Since the start of 2011 they have been bowled out for less than 150 no fewer than six times, and there are question marks over virtually every member of the side bar Michael Clarke.
To start with the positives, James Pattinson’s foray into Test cricket has gone rather better than his brother’s, and of the many young seamers thrown in at the deep end he has been the most impressive. Potentially, he and Pat Cummins could develop into very good international cricketers, which is more than can be said of Mitchell Starc, whose bowling looks about as accurate as a NATO bombing raid. David Warner was the other big plus point, as his unbeaten 120 was more than double the next highest score in the match and will almost certainly have guaranteed his place for Boxing Day at the MCG. It must be said, however, that his lack of first class experience showed late on as he continually took singles off the first ball of an over to expose the tail. Ultimately his lack of composure under pressure cost Australia, as Lyon perished, along with Pattinson and Starc, during an over which Warner had begun on strike.
Discussing the negatives could turn into a novel of War and Peace proportions, but the key points are that the batting is a complete shambles. All of Phil Hughes, Usman Khawaja, Ricky Ponting and Brad Haddin must be testing the selectors’ patience, and even Mike Hussey would be under pressure were it not for their failings as he has barely scored a run since the Australians left Sri Lanka. One feels Hughes is gone, but the latter three may get a stay of execution – Shaun Marsh could come in for Khawaja against India, but a lack of viable alternatives will probably save both Ponting and Haddin for now.
Nobody gave them a prayer. On a green top, without the talismanic Dan Vettori, and particularly once they had been rolled over for 150 in their first innings, they should never have come close to their first victory over Australia in 26 years. New Zealand are probably a side more suited to low scoring matches purely because they have a team of good players who often fail to fire all at the same time. In a game like this they didn’t need them to. A battling innings apiece from Doug Brownlie and Ross Taylor helped scrape (just) enough runs for Doug Bracewell to rip the heart out of Australia’s batting twice in the match.
Brownlie was their big positive of the tour, and if he maintains the sort of form he showed in this series he could be a vital addition to the Kiwi team, as he gives much needed depth to the batting and takes some pressure off Vettori down the order. A number of his teammates would do well to take note of his application, given how many of their dismissals in both Tests were down to the sort of brainless shot selection which has become their opponents’ trademark.
If Australia were using this series as a warm-up for the ‘main event’ against India later this month, then it has gone about as well as Glenn McGrath’s preparations in Birmingham six years ago. Having gone into this series with a number of players under pressure they have come out of it with a top order whose confidence lies in tatters around them. It’s difficult to see them having a chance against the recently deposed best team in the world, but stranger things have happened. As for New Zealand, they could do with a run of games now to try to build momentum, but instead don’t don their whites again until late January when Zimbabwe come to town. They should be seen off without too much trouble before South Africa arrive for the main event. Unfortunately, the chances of them demolishing the Proteas’ confidence before their tour of England are probably not that high.