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Opinion

New Zealand batsmen have embarrassed themselves

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Expert
28th December, 2019
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New Zealand’s much-vaunted Test batting line-up has been pathetic.

Leading into this series in Australia, six members of the New Zealand top seven averaged 40-plus in Tests only for the tourists to be rolled for paltry totals of 166, 171 and then 148 yesterday.

Pakistan were ridiculed for their effort in the two-match series that proceeded this trans-Tasman contest. Yet a much less experienced and accomplished Pakistan batting line-up was far more impressive than what we’ve seen from the Kiwis.

Across that series, Pakistan’s average total was 277 compared to just 161 for New Zealand to date.

There are no excuses for such an uncompetitive performance by the Kiwis. They have their two greatest Test batsmen of the past 20 years at the peak of their powers in Kane Williamson and Ross Taylor. They have an opener in Tom Latham who made 975 runs at 97 in Tests in the year prior to this series.

Henry Nicholls, meanwhile, was the number five ranked Test batsman in the world just a few months ago, widely hailed as one of the format’s elite middle-order players.

NZ also have arguably their greatest-ever Test wicketkeeper, BJ Watling, who averages 40 with the bat over a ten-year career. Not to mention possessing an all-rounder in Colin de Grandhomme who started this series with a career batting average of 40, and a number eight in Mitchell Santner who had smashed 126 in his last Test, against England.

That is a massive amount of experience and batting talent. It is a batting line-up that has helped New Zealand rise to number two in the Test rankings, ten points clear of South Africa, England and Australia. That is why it is so damning they have collapsed three times in a row, failing to put the home attack under even mild pressure at any time in these first two Tests.

The lofty reputations of Williamson, Latham, Nicholls, Watling and de Grandhomme can’t obscure the fact that those five batsmen have a combined average of just 18 in this series.

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Unless the Kiwis pull off a world record chase over the next two days, any runs made by the Kiwi batsmen in the rest of this series should have an asterisk next to them. They will be dead rubber runs, scored once the horse had already bolted.

This series was decided inside NZ’s first three innings. That is when their highly-praised batting line-up needed to perform. Instead they surrendered, even when Australia had only three bowlers for nearly the entire Test in Perth.

Australia’s quicks have walked right through the New Zealand batting line-up, incredibly taking 23 wickets at 11 so far. This solidifies my claim pre-series that a number of the Kiwi batsmen have Test records inflated by churning out runs against sides that don’t possess decent fast bowlers.

In this series, they have run into an Australian pace unit in demonic form. Between them in 2019, Pat Cummins, Mitchell Starc, Josh Hazlewood and James Pattinson have taken 142 Test wickets at 20.

Mitchell Starc of Australia celebrates dismissing Kane Williamson

(Photo by Cameron Spencer/Getty Images)

Even in Australia’s glory era from the mid-1990s to mid-2000s they did not have this same depth in pace stocks. Michael Kasprowicz (113 Test wickets at 33) and Andy Bichel (58 Test wickets at 32) were Australia’s main back-up quicks during most of this period.

By comparison, Australia currently have the luxury of boasting a support fast bowler of the quality of James Pattinson, who has 78 wickets at 26 in Tests. Pattinson’s brilliant Test strike rate of 48 is comfortably better even than renowned Australian strike bowlers Mitchell Johnson (51) and Brett Lee (53).

The fiery Victorian bowled better in this Test than I’ve seen from him since six years ago in India. He was fast (consistently above 140kmh), hostile, accurate and patient, prepared to build pressure rather than seeking miracle balls.

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Pattinson finished with 3-34, including the big wickets of Williamson and Watling, and also should have had Tom Latham caught at slip from a regulation edge.

What New Zealand would give to have an intimidating and genuinely fast bowler of his skill leading their attack. Pattinson’s immediate and significant impact means Australia can afford to be cautious with the injured Josh Hazlewood and leave him out of the third Test in Sydney next week.

There is unlikely to be any respite, though, for the labouring Kiwi batsmen. Australia’s attack has bullied them throughout this series and appears primed to continue doing so.