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Positions vacant: Opening batsman and fast bowler

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27th December, 2019
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Day 2 finished yesterday for the Boxing Day Test between the Black Caps and Australia at the MCG.
What have we learned so far?

As hard as it is for me to say it, the Black Caps have been disappointing so far in the two Tests. The only shining light has been Neil Wagner with his huge heart, athleticism and ability. If all the players were as motivated as Wagner, the Black Caps would be greater competitors.

I fell victim to the hype surrounding the series and was really looking forward to it, but as is the case in life, the event did not live up to the hype. Still plenty of time to go in series but Australia are just looking too formidable, with their pace attack, plus Nathan Lyon, Steve Smith and Marnus Labuschagne.

Steve Smith consoles Marnus Labuschagne

“Everything the light touches is yours”. (AP Photo/Matt Dunham)

I did wonder if Australia’s tactics were to just grind New Zealand into the dirt with slow batting at the crease. There was talk about accurate bowling, slow pitches etc, but Australia seem to be intent on batting for long periods of time.

You could see when the Black Caps came out to bat, they were mentally fried from spending so much time fielding.

Visiting teams are often afraid to bat first in Australia and deep down I believe the Black Caps were hesitant about batting first yesterday. Sure, they talked it up about overhead conditions and the ball swinging around but with a vulnerable batting line-up fielding looked a better option.

When Australia beat Pakistan and New Zealand beat England I thought maybe that Australia would be over-confident coming into the series against the Black Caps, but realise now that New Zealand had been lulled into a false sense of security and thought they would do well in Australia.

To use the Black Caps as an example, visiting teams often bring teams to Australia that have been very successful in their home conditions, thinking that the team will continue good form in Australia. But as we can see with a player such as Mitchell Santner, form in New Zealand does not mean form in Australia.

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Players must be selected for Australian conditions with pace and bounce a major priority and spinners who spin the ball. New Zealand were unlucky to lose Lockie Ferguson with his speed and he may well have improved over the series.

The Black Caps biggest problem is bowlers whose top speed is in the 130s compared to Australia with Pat Cummins and James Pattinson bowling in the 140s and Starc touching 150. New Zealand, and I must add other teams around the world cannot compete with Australia’s fast bowling stocks at present.

If Josh Hazlewood was fit, it would be awfully tempting to go into a Test match with a four-pronged pace attack.

If that did happen would the four be the best group of fast bowlers selected for Australia? Yes, there was Dennis Lillee and Jeff Thomson, but who else joined those two?

The Black Caps desperately need quality opening batsmen. We have seen so far, the pressure added to Kane Williamson when he must go in with less than ten runs on the board. Hindsight is a great thing but Jeet Ravell should never have been selected in the first Test and to have to resort to Tom Blundell in the second is a sad indication of the opening batsmen in New Zealand.

Tom Blundell warms up

Tom Blundell (AAP Image/Richard Wainwright)

It should be a priority for New Zealand Cricket to develop young players to be opening batsmen. The Black Caps never seem to have been strong in this area, just off the top of my head, Glenn Turner, John Wright and Bruce Edgar spring to mind as being the only good quality international batsmen.

Compare this to the opening batsmen who have rolled out of the Australian machine including Matthew Hayden, Justin Langer, David Warner, Mark Taylor, Michael Slater, David Boon, Bill Lawry, Bob Simpson, need I go on?

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Yes, Australia has many more cricket players than New Zealand, but now is a good time to prioritise this opening batsmen weakness.

Neil Wagner, so far, is the only Black Cap who threatens to be included in a best combined eleven of the two teams. He really is a machine and is gaining respect from the Australian batsmen.

Wagner’s dismissal of Steve Smith in the first innings showed all his abilities, creating a plan and aggression. And has Wagner shown other pace bowlers how to dismiss Steve Smith? During the first Test I did say that Wagner would be my favourite player of the series and he continues to build on that thought.

Should Steve Smith have been appealed against for handled ball? Dean Jones, the former Australian batsmen stated that Smith should have been out for handled ball, if it wasn’t for the Black Caps being “too nice”.

Steve Smith

(Photo by Ryan Pierse/Getty Images)

When I saw it happen at the time did not think “oh, that has to be handled ball”, Smith did not appear to do anything deliberately to warrant an appeal. Jones said that “if it was an Australian side they would have appealed”.

It was fortunate for the Black Caps that Smith was legitimately out soon after.

Why has New Zealand not played a Boxing Day Test at the MCG for 32 years? Judging by the crowds over the first two days where approximately 130,000 people have attended, the Black Caps warrant more Tests to be played there.

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What Australia Cricket may not have considered is the number of Kiwis who will watch the Test at this historic ground. Some said just under 20,000 Kiwis were there and it sounded even more!

An observer said that it depends on form as to whether they get games there, but how can you organise fixtures years in advance considering form as a drawcard?

Will New Zealand still be in the Test match over next few days to attract even more of their fans to this historic ground and occasion?

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