Australia’s ‘play to win’ mantra tested by Black Caps in Perth

Brett McKay Columnist

By , Brett McKay is a Roar Expert

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    After Australia racked up 2-416 in Perth last Friday, the first day of the second Test against New Zealand, I’m sure I wasn’t the only pundit or commentator putting the line through the Black Caps.

    After they’d been well beaten in Brisbane the week before, conceding 400 in one day didn’t bode well at all for the Kiwis. And a lot of the criticism was warranted, too, with their attack on the opening day in Perth largely toothless.

    My particular choice of words was, “it really looks like this Test is gone for New Zealand already”. Going back through the live blog comments on stumps, and more again before play began on Saturday, I might have been kind to the Kiwis.

    However, consider this. Since that cracking Day 1 start, Australia didn’t win another session in the Test until maybe the afternoon session yesterday. From the morning of Day 2 until lunch on Day 4, it was all New Zealand, and coming into today – which didn’t seem likely after Day 1 – New Zealand could still win this Test.

    In truth, after conceding 400 in a day, New Zealand should’ve been thumped in this game. Instead, some fairly silly Australian batting at the end of their first innings, and then five sessions of New Zealand cashing in on some similarly generous offerings from the Australian bowlers – Mitchell Starc aside, mostly – means that the Aussies still have some serious work to do to win this Test.

    New Zealand took the early wickets of Joe Burns and David Warner after lunch yesterday, but then didn’t really threaten much after that.

    Steve Smith and Adam Voges’s unbeaten 212-run partnership was as timely as it was imposing. The longer it went on, the less idea New Zealand had about countering, until Brendon McCullum began finding new ways to slow down the game.

    Smith’s century was exactly what his team needed. After sliding back up to number three for the injured Usman Khawaja, it was again the type of ‘follow me, boys’ captain’s knock that he seems to have peeled off for fun over the last 12 months or so.

    Similarly, Voges going with him and registering his own special century on home turf provides an indication of why he was to be Smith’s deputy on the cancelled tour of Bangladesh in October.

    But what does Smith do now to win this Test, and sew up the series before the pink ball lottery Test in Adelaide at the end of next week?

    The lead going into Day 5 is only 193, and certainly not enough to declare on. McCullum, along with Martin Guptill, Kane Williamson, and Ross Taylor are certainly capable of scoring quickly, meaning Australia can’t give them too much time to chase down a total.

    And then there’s this, too. If I’ve piloted ESPNCricInfo’s wonderful Statsguru machine correctly, then Australia’s nine declared for 559 would be the second-highest first innings score in a lost match in the history of Test cricket.

    It would top the 553 posted against India in Adelaide in 2003-2004, and is only bettered by Australia’s 586 against England in Sydney in that glorious summer of 1894-1895!

    Australia have to give themselves enough time to take 10 wickets. And on this pitch, even on Day 5, that’s going to take some doing, particularly the way they bowled for a day and half earlier in this match.

    As sure as Kookaburra have a quality control issue with their Test Match balls, pedestrian bowlers have gone the journey in this match.

    And this is where the ‘play to win’ mantra has already been, and will again be tested by New Zealand. Smith probably erred in Melbourne last year, declaring too late against India, and that may well be on his mind when play resumes this morning.

    I suspect we might learn something about the new skipper today, one way or the other.

    Taylor handshake oversight unintentional, but doesn’t help perceptions
    There’s been a fair bit made across all forums regarding no Australian player offering Taylor a well deserved congratulations after being dismissed for 290 yesterday, the highest score made in Australia by a visiting player.

    Dirk Nannes, an excellent addition to the ABC Grandstand commentary team this summer, was particularly scathing at the time:

    “Probably the biggest disappointment of that session is that after the innings, [Taylor’s] made 290, not one person from the Australian camp went and shook his hand,” Nannes said.

    “In the spirit of the way this game has been played, and the game before, with the exception of that one incident with Mitchell Starc, I can’t help but be disappointed that nobody went out to him and shook his hand.

    “It’s not that hard is it?

    “You don’t have a guy bat for a day and a half out there and just not even acknowledge it, that’s horrendous sportsmanship.”

    Gerard Whateley, commentating at the time, gave the Australians the benefit of the doubt, labelling the supposed snub a “lapse of concentration”, while Simon Katich similarly espoused a thought that it was more accidental rather than intentional.

    I tend to agree with this, and certainly, both Warner and Burns could be seen running off the field to get their batting gear on. I suspect it was something lost in the rush to get into batting mode.

    But I will definitely concede that Nannes made some really good points that I find quite difficult to argue. And they definitely struck a chord with listeners, because social media became flooded with discussion, and indeed Whateley pressed the former Australian left-armer on the issue again in the evening session.

    Nannes’s point was this: with perceptions about the team the way they are currently, with any slight spotfire jumped all over, the Australians should be more conscious of doing the right thing than ever.

    “When you’ve had this image for so long, maybe you do have to go out of your way,” he said later in the day.

    And he’s right.

    If Smith is genuine about wanting to improve those perceptions – and his coming down on Starc after his moment of stupidity in Brisbane suggests he is – then this is exactly the sort of thing he should be mindful of.

    In reality, he should have led the team in the direction of Taylor as they walked off.

    Brett McKay
    Brett McKay

    Brett McKay is one of The Roar's good news stories and has been a rugby and cricket expert for the site since July 2009. Brett is an international and Super Rugby commentator for ABC Grandstand radio, has commentated on the Australian Under-20s Championships and National Rugby Championship live stream coverage, and has written for magazines and websites in Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, and the UK. He tweets from @BMcSport.

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