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The Liebke Ratings: Australia vs New Zealand, first Test

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15th December, 2019
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International cricket’s most beloved team New Zealand arrived on Australian shores to once again show up the home side with their effortless displays of sportsmanship, affability and completing one’s overs more or less within the scheduled time.

Heck, they tackled an umpire, but somehow managed to do so in a charming fashion. How do they do that?

Here are the ratings for the first Test between Australia and New Zealand.

Heat
Grade: D
The big talking point heading into the Test was heat. No, not the 1995 crime thriller starring Robert de Niro and Al Pacino. (Although The Godfather, Part II, starring those same actors was on SBS during the evening session of the third day. This tempted some fans unimpressed by Australia’s lack of declarations to switch over and watch the classic mob masterpiece instead. Which was a little odd. If you want to watch parallel stories of ruthless men rising to power and dominating all those who dare oppose them, why not stick with Steve Smith and Marnus Labuschagne?)

(But I digress.)

No, the heat in question here was the forty degree forecast for every day of the Test. This was to be a sweltering weapon in Australia’s match-winning strategy of a) winning the toss, b) batting until New Zealand dissolved into a puddle of extremely polite sunscreen and then c) mopping up from there.

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Injured fast bowlers
Grade: B-
Operation Melt-A-Kiwi prospered even further when debutant Lockie Ferguson tore his calf on the first day, leaving the Black Caps a bowler short.

Luckily for New Zealand, they had Neil Wagner in their side, a ready-made fast-bowling lunatic willing to shoulder the bulk of the bowling despite the conditions. The kind of man who responds to the threat of 38 degree heat by performing push-ups before a spell.

Wagner, a cricketer who loves bouncers more than an early-90s Neighbours devotee, bowled 37 overs in total in Australia’s first innings.

He took 4/92, including David Warner, Steve Smith and Marnus Labuschagne for 43, 43 and 143 respectively. This was presumably some kind of l33t-speak-encoded message begging for further hydration.

Neil Wagner is happy

New Zealand’s Neil Wagner. (AP Photo/Mark Baker)

This powerhouse display in the blistering Perth sun led most people to conclude that Neil Wagner is solar powered. Like Superman. Or a Casio fx-300A Scientific Calculator.

Later in the Test, Josh Hazlewood evened things up by following Ferguson’s lead and suffering a match-ending hamstring injury. Based on this Test’s evidence, it’s virtually impossible to split Ferguson and Hazlewood for who is the most sensible fast bowler in world cricket.

For a while, it looked as if each team might lose one bowler per innings until by the Third Test we’d see pace attacks of Billy Stanlake, Dan Christian and a recalled Shaun Tait facing off against Jimmy Neesham, a random All Black and one of those Flight of the Conchords lads.

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Alas, that now seems unlikely.

Umpires
Grade: C+
New Zealand’s pursuit of Australia’s first innings total of 416 all out was hampered by a brutal opening spell under lights on the evening of the second day.

It was hampered even further when Colin de Grandhomme was given out caught in slips from a ball that bounced off his helmet.

Luckily, he had a review available which he used to send the decision upstairs. Less luckily, the third umpire chose to uphold the decision despite a lack of any mark on either Snicko or Hot Spot, claiming he didn’t have enough evidence to overturn the original call.

A wonderful moment for fans of confusing ‘evidence of absence’ with ‘absence of evidence’. That’s a niche audience, for sure. But they were both very satisfied.

Still, it’s good to give New Zealand a decision to be aggrieved by early. It lets them settle into the series.

Marnus Labuschagne
Grade: B+
With the umpires’ assistance, New Zealand ended a mere 250 runs short on the first innings, bowled out for 166.

Tim Paine chose not to enforce the follow on, allowing Marnus Labuschagne to score another half-century and, in the process, become the first Test batsman to reach a thousand runs in 2019. As they like to say in Rome, Marnus had M’ed up.

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Steve Smith consoles Marnus Labuschagne

The moment when Marnus stole Steve’s cricketing prowess. (AP Photo/Matt Dunham)

Still, despite the runaway success of the Marnus Cinematic Universe, the Australian number three remains highly relatable.

In between his epic run-scoring and the occasional leg break that turns sharply out of the rough, you can still find him screaming nonsensical appeals for edges that nobody else hears, getting in the way of the keeper during panicky run out attempts and ordering KFC via the Fox Sports drone.

Marnus is truly one of us. Or, more precisely, given that ‘Marnus Labuschagne’ is the only Test cricketer in history to have ‘us’ in both first and surnames, he’s two of us.

Not Using A Bat
Grade: D
Australia eventually declared their second innings closed on 9/217, setting New Zealand 468 to win, a target approximately 297 runs too big. And by ‘approximately’, I mean ‘precisely’.

The highlight of Australia’s second innings was Matthew Wade, who spent an inordinate amount of time allowing Wagner’s short balls to strike him on the body.

One can only assume Wade’s refusal to use his bat was a natural response to being called upon to replace Hazlewood in the bowling attack during New Zealand’s first innings.

A whole-hearted contributor is Wade, so if he’s going to be the new Hazlewood – Hazlewade, presumably – he’s going to emulate all aspects of the fast bowler’s game, including not being able to lay bat on ball.

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I look forward to Wade’s further bunnification and can’t wait to see him opening the bowling and batting at eleven during the Boxing Day Test.