There is one question on everyone’s lips leading into Thursday’s trans-Tasman opener: can Australia register a win for the good guys by overcoming the Black Caps?
While you won’t see it in statistics or anywhere outside this piece, it has become incontestable fact that Justin Langer’s men have usurped the Kiwis as world cricket’s nicest blokes.
With all due respect to the tourists’ sparkling repute, this is because Australia is in the midst of an unrivalled golden era of decorum, one so reassuring we’ve almost left behind our past sins and Don Bradman.
After the carnage of the Cape Town fiasco, Australia’s cricketers have restored the nation’s reputation by keeping their post-sandpapergate promises: to never again lie, to never again mislead, and to never again use sticky tape stuck with dirt.
The results have been beyond the nation’s wildest expectations, with nobody vilifying an opponent for almost 25 days now, and players even beginning to consider values as something other than the percentage of a match fee.
Such is the turnaround, the squeaky-clean Kiwis are about to face an opposition in Perth so unrecognisably charming and old-fashioned, it will feel like they have gone more than six hours back in time.
Australia’s new, market-leading modesty is a byproduct of Langer’s ‘character over cover drives’ ethos, a strategy that has seen the team abandon head-butting the line in favour of a commitment to being nice by no longer sledging or swerving for wildlife.
But as unbelievable as this sounds, there are pockets of cynics who still doubt the veracity of Australia’s uncharacteristic rebrand.
Some claim it’s a PR stunt and that Tim Paine actually hails from a place near the North Island, while others simply believe they are just flat-track evangelists bound to eventually revert to type, which is bowling beamers, robbing pensioners, and then bowling beamers at the robbed pensioners.
These doubters believe that to authentically complete the transformation, Australia will have to finally accomplish something it has never done before. They claim the team will have to conquer its final frontier – a victory over the Kiwis achieved within the laws of the game.
For those unaware, this white whale stems from a chequered past, one where both nations are as guilty as each other for contributing to controversy.
In this time, Australia have triumphed via underarm bowling, dodgy umpiring, bumped catches, bowling batsmen by removing the bails by hand, head-butting Scott Styris, and excluding New Zealand from global revenue share.
As for the Kiwis, Ross Taylor once pulled away in a bowler’s run-up.
But while this is a shocking indictment on the strong ties between the nations, there is a caveat: Taylor was vision-impaired.
Whether the Kiwi had mistaken the bowler for a herd of buffalo or Blocker Wilson, the point stands: fair and legal results in trans-Tasman cricket have been rendered virtually impossible because both Australia and New Zealand are as untrustworthy as each other.
Things have hardly improved in the modern game, with both sides strengthening their respective trademark positions in battle.
New Zealand broke new ground by registering cricket’s maiden Moral World Cup victory, all the while establishing a role as a global leader on important social issues. As for Australia, it sold its soul for the Big Bash, underpaid dairy farmers and oversaw a rise of unsafe pitches and Kyle Sandilands.
Oddly, this has somehow resulted in the deterioration of Australia’s reputation and the emergence of Kiwi envy – a tragic concept where Australians yearn for New Zealand’s conscientious attitude and a battery of sporting teams that are humble, magnanimous, and not Australian.
Additionally, it has seen the Black Caps earn a unique gravitas – despite winning on Australian shores only three times in 30 years – a reputation described by some as cricket’s version of the Wallabies, only respected.
Predictably, being unloved by its own in favour of the Kiwis saw Australian cricket obviously plunge into deep existential tumult, with breezy World Cup triumphs and lucrative series against mutually rich countries slowing to a pathetic half-yearly trickle.
But after years of denial, we can again be proud of Australian cricket. Well, at least until the next pay dispute.
The team has pluckily emerged from the mire to steal its rightful crown as cricket’s torchbearers. They have done so by leading the way in gentility and innovation, basically by getting out of stump mic range when giving send-offs.
And for this rebirth, the Kiwis are to thank.
While it would never be admitted, Australia has adopted aspects of its rival’s centrist progressive attitude, enacting its affable manner to the game while also lowering emissions (less shit chat) and softening its stance on immigrants (allowing a Tasmanian to be captain).