Australia will leap to second on the Test rankings after thrashing New Zealand in Melbourne to clinch this three-Test series.
The Aussies rolled New Zealand cheaply for the fourth straight time yesterday, in spite of a fantastic 121 by Tom Blundell, thanks to James Pattinson (3-35) and Nathan Lyon (4-81).
After tumbling down the rankings while champion batsmen Steve Smith and David Warner were banned, Australia will now be second behind India once the ICC updates the rankings at the end of this series.
The Aussies needed only to win this series against New Zealand to steal their second ranking. The Kiwis don’t deserve that lofty perch based on this series, in which they have been torn apart by Australia.
There were some factors hindering New Zealand in the first Test – their lack of experience against the pink ball combined with the absence of a practice match in Australia. Yet there were no excuses for the enormous margin of defeat in that match, nor for their abject performance at the MCG.
It is more understandable when the Kiwis or the Aussies labour in the UK or Asia, places where they encounter significantly different challenges than at home. The Dukes ball behaves wildly compared to the Kookaburra, while Asian pitches favour spin in a way New Zealand and Australian players are not accustomed to.
But at the MCG the tourists were using the familiar Kookaburra and playing on a fairly docile pitch similar to those they often see back in NZ. The Kiwis may have been playing overseas, but these conditions were far from foreign.
This MCG surface has been good for batting, as the Aussies showed in making 467 and as Tom Blundell further highlighted by cracking a ton despite never having opened the batting before in a first-class match.
Those efforts served to shame the much-hyped group of Kane Williamson, Ross Taylor, Tom Latham and Henry Nicholls. That quartet entered this series all ranked in the world’s top 16 Test batsmen yet have combined to average a paltry 18 so far.
With an experienced and settled team and the No. 2 ranking under their belt, this was NZ’s biggest Test series in more than a decade. Two or three players aside, they have flopped spectacularly. With fans of both team having eagerly anticipated this series for more than a year, it has been a major let down.
Except, that is, for the Australian team, who have built some tremendous form since the return of Smith and Warner. The Aussies have a 6-2 win-loss record in that time, with one of those two losses coming by the barest of margins on the back of a freak knock by Ben Stokes.
Australia’s attack is equal with India as the best in the world, while their batting line-up is arguably stronger than it has been at any time in the past decade. Steve Smith, David Warner and Marnus Labuschagne are three of the world’s premier Test batsmen, giving Australia a formidable top order.
Meanwhile, Travis Head averages 43 in his career, opener Joe Burns averaged 44 in Tests this year and Matt Wade has been solid since returning to the Test team, averaging 38.
Even wicketkeeper Tim Paine has located some reasonable form with the blade, having averaged 33 in his last six Tests and scored a ton in the Sheffield Shield. Not long ago Smith and Warner were surrounded by a dysfunctional batting group. Yet now Australia have flogged the highly rated Kiwis despite that pair having poor series by their standards, both averaging only in the mid-30s.
In the first Test it was 25-year-old Labuschagne who made the match-defining ton and at the MCG it was 26-year-old Head who broke New Zealand with a gritty century. While both batsmen are still in the early stages of their Test careers, they have shown enough to suggest they can become pillars of the Australian top six.
Australia’s next two Test series will tell us just how good a team they are. Next up they travel to Bangladesh to try to win their first Test series in Asia since 2011. Then they host the heavyweights of Test cricket, India, who are comfortably the best team in this format at present.
First, though, Australia will be keen to complete a clean sweep over the Kiwis next week in Sydney. New Zealand, meanwhile, need to compete strongly in that match to salvage some pride from what has been a nightmare tour of Australia.