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Opinion

The trans-Tasman series gets its long-overdue top billing

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11th December, 2019
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Pat Cummins admittedly didn’t quite have the smoothest entry into Test cricket, with his second Test coming five and half years after his debut, but with 27 Tests now under his belt, it’s hard to fathom that he is yet to face New Zealand in a Test match.

That little detail will be addressed in Perth today, but the fact Australia and the Black Caps haven’t met in Cummins’s almost three full calendar years back in the Test squad is beyond belief, especially given New Zealand’s standing internationally in that time.

But it’s actually worse than that. Today’s match will be just the seventh Trans-Tasman Trophy Test played on Australian shores in more than a decade.

And there’s been only four Tests played over the ditch in that same time.

I’ve mentioned a few times how a group of mates and I have been going to the Sydney Test annually for a long time – it might be our 20th anniversary this summer, but we’ve again lost track – but this is the first time we will see New Zealand play.

They were probably our only remaining nation to see – we’ve lost track of that too – as the recent additions of Ireland and Afghanistan probably aren’t likely to lob into Sydney in the next few seasons.

But it’s not just us who’ve never seen them in Sydney. New Zealand haven’t played a Test at the SCG since November 1985, and only in the first week of January in 1974 before that, meaning this summer will theoretically be the Black Caps’ first New Year’s Test in more than 40 years.

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And they have actually played in Melbourne on Boxing Day too, which I was surprised to find out. Twice in fact.

Though the first Boxing Day Test was the third Test of the six-match Ashes series of 1974-75 and the West Indies played a Melbourne Test starting on 26 December the following season, the 1980 Boxing Day Test featuring New Zealand marked the start of the unbeaten tradition we now know.

They featured on Boxing Day in 1987 too.

It adds an extra element to what was always going to be a highly anticipated match-up – that it will finally be played as the marquee series of the Australian summer.

Tom Latham

(Gareth Copley/Getty Images)

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Looking back down the list of trans-Tasman Tests played in Australia, the Kiwis have made only sporadic appearances in Australia in December.

The two Tests in Brisbane and Hobart in 2011 were in the first fortnight of December, and before that it was Brisbane again in the first week of December in 1993 and the aforementioned series in 1987.

November has been the traditional touring slot of our closest neighbours, and there is a very simple and obvious reason for that: they’ve been playing their own Boxing Day cricket at home for much of that time.

It was a Test at the Basin Reserve in Wellington for a long time, and Christchurch had one or two as well, while in recent years it has also been a one-day international.

So the Kiwis have given up a big chunk of prime cricket calendar real estate of their own to be in Australia for Christmas and New Year, and I’d be stunned if Cricket Australia haven’t sweetened the deal with some sort of revenue-sharing arrangement that ensures NZC aren’t out of pocket.

And, frankly, so it should.

It’s ridiculous that Australia and New Zealand have played only 57 Tests since New Zealand gained Test status in 1947, with 31 of those played in Australia.

In context, Australia have played five full five-Test Ashes series in Australia since 2002 and 12 Tests against India at home in the last decade.

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David Warner.

(Ryan Pierse/Getty Images)

It all speaks of the second-class citizenship we seem to have bestowed on New Zealand when perhaps they should be a significantly bigger rival than they are.

One of my earliest memories watching cricket on TV is of those great beige-clad New Zealand sides of the very early 1980s who seemed to tour every year and who we got to know so well and admire so much as cricketers.

Names like Geoff Howarth, John Wright, Bruce Edgar, Richard Hadlee, Lance Cairns, Ewen Chatfield, Martin Snedden. Martin Crowe, Mark Greatbatch, Ken Rutherford and Danny Morrison. Great players all of them. And the likes of Stephen Fleming, Nathan Astle, Chris Cairns, Adam Parore, Daniel Vettori and co who followed were just as well regarded if not quite so well known.

But currently Kane Williamson and maybe Ross Taylor aside, I’m not sure Australian kids know much about the Black Caps.

They’ll probably know about Trent Boult and Tim Southee but might not realise that Boult is racing the clock to play in Perth and Southee is no selection guarantee either.

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It would be news to plenty to learn that BJ Watling is rated the best keeper-batsman in the world and that spinner Mitchell Santner made a maiden Test century last month chock full of cover drives that would have made Fleming proud.

Taylor will quite likely go past Fleming as New Zealand’s record run-scorer this series. Williamson will probably leapfrog Brendon McCullum into third. Watling and Tom Latham are now respectively ninth and tenth on the same list.

Australia are well in front of New Zealand in the ICC World Test Championship standings but sit fifth in the ICC Test rankings behind the Black Caps in second. Australia have to win the series to overtake them.

It shapes as a tremendous series between two sides playing very good cricket and one well worth the top billing it has finally been afforded.

But it’s a series that should be played way more often than it is. The Chappell-Hadlee one-day series came onto the scene with big plans that seemed to be quickly cast aside to the point that the next edition will be played in Australia next March as both countries are watching various rugby and football codes.

Hopefully this trans-Tasman Trophy series will remind us all that top billing is where this rivalry belongs.