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Opinion

The Black Caps' batting was outclassed and overawed

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9th January, 2020
20

The recently completed Test series between the Black Caps and Australia was as one-sided as it could possibly be.

The fact Australia could have enforced the follow-on in all three Tests shows the domination.

Prior to the tour, there was tremendous expectation in New Zealand. People tweeted that they were looking forward to watching all 8100 balls of the series, while Sky TV in NZ ran replays of the victorious 1985 tour, the controversial Boxing Day finish in 1987 and the Hobart win of 2011.

The Black Caps had a Test ranking of two plus several batsmen and bowlers in the top ten. It would be their first appearance in the Boxing Day and New Year’s Tests for the first time in three decades. The tour garnered a lot of excitement in New Zealand.

So why did the series go from one of high hopes to all three Tests finishing comfortably inside four days with the worst batting performances seen in 139 years in Australia?

The batting is the obvious issue. At least some of the bowlers either maintained, or in Neil Wagner’s case, enhanced their reputations.

The most obvious failures were Kane Williamson and Ross Taylor at three and four. The expectation was that they would do something like what they did in Perth on the last tour in 2016. The reality was exemplified in Melbourne when they contributed the fifth worst return by a three and four for New Zealand in history – and New Zealand has had some very poor returns over the years from these positions.

It’s hard to think why two batsmen who have been successful around the world failed so badly, but in Williamson’s case it could be the mental stress of captaincy as well as often walking out at one wicket down for so few runs.

Kane Williamson of New Zealand

(AAP Image/Michael Dodge)

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In Taylor’s case, it seemed like a lack of a settled plan against the bowing attack. His first-innings 80 in Perth was the only highlight and was based on being aggressive against Nathan Lyon and not allowing him to settle. His summary over the series was being caught behind the wicket three times, bowled twice and LBW once.

Australia were disciplined in where they bowled to Taylor, and when Lyon got hit around a bit, he followed it up with a big-turning spinner, creating doubt for Taylor, which ultimately led to his downfall.

The battle with Lyon in Perth probably shows the difference between Australia and other teams New Zealand has faced. Most teams would either have given Lyon a rest or gone with a defensive field to wait for a mistake.

This shows the difference with Australia: they keep attacking, not just by having attacking fields, but by trusting they have the right plans and the ability to eventually get the batsman out, and not giving any easy runs in the meantime.

The lack of easy runs was another aspect that the Black Caps struggled with. Against an Aussie bowling line-up that had three bowlers bowling at 140 kilometres per hour, and Lyon attacking at the other end, there was no let-up for the batsmen.

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In contrast, the Black Caps had come from an England series that had more swing bowlers around 130 kilometres per hour – Stuart Broad, Sam Curran and Chris Woakes, plus an ineffective Jofra Archer.

The lack of a plan to rotate the strike was clear to see, let alone any plan to counter the bowling through standing out of the crease to upset the line and length Pat Cummins was able to hit virtually every ball.

Pat Cummins

(AAP Image/Scott Barbour)

The old adage of Australia having hard and bouncy tracks totally different to what the Black Caps encounter at home was something that the Kiwis never got comfortable with. In New Zealand, with slow and low pitches, the emphasis is on vertical shots and you can get on the front foot regularly.

In Australia, there is a great emphasis on back-foot play, with cutting and pulling key skills to be successful. It was no coincidence that Tom Blundell scored New Zealand’s only hundred of the series by playing a lot of hooks and pulls – 77 of his runs came on the onside between midwicket and backward of square leg.

A series that started with such huge promise ended with another comprehensive Test series loss. Hopefully it won’t be another 32 years before New Zealand are invited back for the iconic Boxing Day and New Year’s Tests. When they are, we can only hope they prepare much better than this summer.