Black Caps win a cricket Test for the history books

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New Zealand players left to right captain Ross Taylor, Reece Young and Jesse Ryder. AAP Image/Dale Cumming

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Defeating Australia in a cricket Test is the equivalent for the Black Caps of winning a Rugby World Cup tournament for the All Blacks. It is 26 years since New Zealand has won a cricket Test in Australia, two years longer than the All Blacks RWC drought.

Like the All Blacks in RWC 2011, too, the Black Caps achieved their historic victory without their best player.

Daniel Vettori, with his splendid spin bowling and his gusty and productive run-making, is New Zealand cricket’s Daniel Carter.

He was watching on in the dressing room, out of the match with a pulled hamstring.

One of the oldest truisms of cricket is that ‘bowling wins Tests.’ Batting sets up wins.

But successful bowling clinches the victory.

If there are no declarations, the winning side has to take 20 wickets to secure a victory. There is no limit or limitation on the number of runs needed to win a win.

David Warner, 123 not out, became only the second Australian opener to bat through the the fall of 10 wickets in the second innings of Test. He is in splendid company with Bill Ponsford and Bill Lawry.

But it was ludicrous that he won the ‘Man of the Match’ award. His innings, valiant and occasionally brilliant though it might have been, did NOT win the Test.

The Test was won by a youngster with great cricketing bloodlines, Doug Bracewell, with his 6 for 40 off 16.4 overs. Bracewell’s last spell in which he took 6 wickets for 26 runs was the stuff of Richard Hadlee, in his prime.

Of course, there is the element of good fortune always in historic outcomes like this. In my opinion, two factors in particular worked for the New Zealanders.

The first was the incredibly sportive pitch prepared by the groundsman. The Test pitch was a dark green seamer’s delight. Several metres away on the far side of the pitch block, a prepared pitch (for a one-day match?) was very much lighter in colour.

I would argue that if this drier pitch had been used, Australia would have won the Test.

The reason for this is that New Zealand never win high-scoring contests. And on a dry pitch, a lot of runs would have been scored (probably by the Australian batsmen). But on green pitches, with the ball swerving and lifting off a length, New Zealand can generally scrap together enough runs to be competitive.

And this is what they did at Hobart.

I have some New Zealand friends who had tickets for all the days of the Test series. I told them that my definition of a super optimist is someone who buys tickets for the fourth and fifth days of a Test involving New Zealand.

The second factor was Michael Clarke’s decision to put New Zealand into bat.

The effect of this decision, especially after Australia’s poor first innings total, was that the Baggy Green Caps had to bat last. My guess is that Australia has not won too many Tests chasing 241 runs in the last innings of the match.

When the last pair came together, 42 runs were needed to achieve victory. Never in Australia’s Test history has the side chased down this number of runs successfully with a last wicket pair.

The best 9th-wicket chase was 38.

It is a credit to the courage and resilience of Nathan Lyon and David Warner (together with a huge dolloping of luck with two outs over-ruled) that the last pair got so close, within 7 runs of glory.

What Clarke’s decision to bat second did, aside from making it likely that his side had to bat last, was to give New Zealand some freedom at the end of their second innings to hit out. No one knew what would be a competitive score for Australia to chase. The feeling in the commentary box was that about 300 behind would be difficult but not impossible.

So the New Zealand tailenders threw their bat at the ball when their side was collapsing. What did they have to lose?

They seemed to be short of a decent target for Australia to chase. The last pair made nearly 30 or so, even though Chris Martin (‘the worst batsman in the history of Test cricket’ according to Tony Greig) was part of this partnership.

This partnership pushed out the chase to the difficult task it proved to be.

Clarke has to take a lesson from Mark Taylor who invariably batted first when possible and W.G.Grace who pontificated that ‘you should sometimes think about putting the other side into bat, and then never do it.’

We get now to the sad case of Phil Hughes.

Readers of The Roar will know I have been his champion ever since I saw him play his first first-class match at the SCG a couple of years ago. But he has to be dropped.

What has gone wrong?

Ian Chappell reckons that he faced the task of making a small remedial adjustment which would have allowed to play his smashing shots through point or a major adjustment that took this shot away away from him.

Chappell reckons the small adjustment, just learning to leave the higher bouncing ball alone, would have been enough to retain the special qualities of his style that made him such a dangerous opener.

By opting to give away the slight shuffle to leg as the ball is being bowled and replacing it with a shuffle across to his off stump (which took away the trademark slash through the gully area), Hughes has reduced his play to the mediocrity we saw at Hobart.

I reckon Hughes should get away from the batting coaches who have given him poor advice and go to Chappell (Ian not Greg) for the real thing. And that advice is to go back to the former method that lighted up his play so early in his career.

This defeat has made the task of the Australian selectors much easier. One of Ponting and Hussey should stay on to give some seniority to the batting top order. But it may be time for both of them to go.

If everyone is fit and available the Test team to play India should be:

Warner, Watson, Marsh, Khawaja, Clarke, Hussey, Christian, Haddin (until Tim Paine is available), Siddle, Pattinson, Lyon.

In time, Ed Cowan might be brought in to stiffen up the batting, but only if Shane Watson begins to bowl again. If Watson bowls, there is a case for Cowan to open and Watson to take Christian’s place as the batting all-rounder.

Spiro Zavos, a founding writer on The Roar, was long time editorial writer on the Sydney Morning Herald, where he started a rugby column that has run for nearly 30 years. Spiro has written 12 books: fiction, biography, politics and histories of Australian, New Zealand, British and South African rugby. He is regarded as one of the foremost writers on rugby throughout the world.
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