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Opinion

Bowling is New Zealand's biggest concern

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Roar Guru
16th December, 2019
20

The first Test is in the history books, won convincingly by Australia in under four days.

There are lots of points to take from this game, both positive and negative for both teams.

The Black Caps need to sort out their attack. There’s no doubt Neil Wagner and Tim Southee in particular justified the adjectives being used to described their efforts in both innings – courageous, lion-hearted, never gave up, kept up the pressure et cetera3.

The fact is that this attack took more than 146 overs to dismiss Australia in the first innings and another 69 overs to take nine wickets in the second. That’s on what’s likely to be the most bowler-friendly wicket they’ll see in this three-Test series.

Yes, they were a bowler down, but so was Australia, yet Mitch Starc, Pat Cummins and Nathan Lyon, with good support from their part-timers, managed to take 20 wickets on the same pitch in just over 120 overs.

Tim Southee appeals

(Cameron Spencer/Getty Images)

The Black Caps’ batting will not only be better for the hit out in Perth, but they will likely encounter more batting-friendly conditions in Melbourne and Sydney. This should result in much more competitive totals than we saw out west.

The problem they have is Australia also gets to use the same batting-friendly conditions, and it’s not likely players like David Warner and Steve Smith, who didn’t really get going in this Test, will not cash in. The Black Caps could attack could be in for some long days in the field in the next two Tests.

The Black Caps selection process has come back to bite them. Ian Smith in commentary made the remark that a month ago the Kiwi selectors chose a Test squad for five Tests, the two recently completed against England and the current series. These selections obviously worked well enough at home, but they are likely to be a real problem over the next three weeks.

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They have issues at opener but have no backup batsman, only Tom Blundell, a wicketkeeper who has played a couple of Tests. Their options are limited – Blundell might come in and open, a big ask against this attack when he’s a middle-order batsman. Perhaps they’ll play him as keeper and move BJ Watling to open given how he batted in the Black Caps second innings. Maybe the skipper has to open.

As Ronan O’Connell alluded to in his piece about Nathan Lyon, Mitchell Santner is simply not getting enough penetration with his bowling. But their only other spin option is Todd Astle, and he’s considered a bowler of lesser ability.

Trent Boult will come back into the team, but do they play Lockie Ferguson if he’s fit and leave the spinners out together? Or maybe have Jeet Raval drop down the order and play him as a spinner? At least he took a wicket in Perth!

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Lyon’s lack of confidence isn’t helping him. Throughout the Test summer Lyon has bowled really well without luck, and Sunday was no exception. He returned match figures of six for 111 off 36 overs but could have had a couple more if a sharp chance had gone to hand and a catch behind had been referred.

Although he’s clearly bowling well, he’s got to sort out his field placings. The Black Caps were never going to chase down 467, especially after he dismissed Kane Williamson, yet Lyon persisted with four and five guys in the deep on a pitch that was offering him some pretty generous support.

This trait of setting defensive fields is something he and Tim Paine need to address. There was no reason why he should not have plenty of guys around the bat from ball one. When he did get guys in close he got wickets.

None of the bowlers should be rested despite it being about now in the Australian Test summer when Justin Langer and co seem to think someone in the fast bowling line-up needs a spell. Hopefully the injury to Josh Hazlewood, while unfortunate, will convince them to leave Starc and Cummins alone.

Both quicks got through 34 and 33 overs respectively, which is not a huge workload by Test standards, and have given themselves an extra day’s rest. Both look really keen to bowl. Bring in James Pattinson, who’ll be jumping out of his skin to bowl and let them loose on Boxing Day.

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Matty Wade has to find a less painful way of facing Neil Wagner. In scenes reminiscent of Bodyline, Matthew Wade decided that allowing Neil Wagner short deliveries to hit him was going to be his batting method for part of his innings. Message to Wade: that might work once, but it’s not sustainable for another four innings. Find another way to combat Wagner’s methods.