New Zealand’s longstanding hoodoo in Australia continued last night as they botched a straightforward chase in a strange ODI played in an empty SCG due to the threat of coronavirus.
The Kiwis have not won a series in any format in Australia for 35 years and that drought looks unlikely to be broken in this three-match contest after the Kiwis flopped with the bat in the series opener in Sydney.
Batting first Australia made 7-258, which looked under par even on a slow surface, but then New Zealand played very meek cricket to roll over for 187.
The Australian innings had offered NZ two clear lessons. Firstly, it was not easy to score rapidly on this sleepy pitch once the ball got soft and the fielders were set deep. Secondly, it took time for new batsmen to adjust to the surface and find their timing.
Yet the Kiwis seemingly took no notice of either of those things. It was clear they needed to go at decent rate in the power play, when scoring would be at its easiest, to avoid pressure quickly mounting in the middle overs.
Instead the tourists hit just one solitary boundary in the first 11 overs as they crept to 1-28. In doing so they let the required run rate quickly balloon from a manageable 5.18 runs per over at the start of the innings to a run a ball.
The Kiwis then made another key tactical error. At this stage, after 11 overs, opener Martin Guptill was the set batsman, having faced 42 balls, which was plenty of time to adjust to the quirks of the surface. Because of this, and also his renowned ball-striking ability, Guptill should have been the man tasked with upping the ante to get the required run rate in check.
Instead, Guptill (40 from 73 balls) kept playing very conservatively, scoring just 17 runs in the following ten overs. This put the onus on consecutive new batsmen in Kane Williamson and Ross Taylor to take on the bowlers from early in their innings, before they got a good feel for the two-paced deck.
As a result NZ swiftly lost both of those batsmen, who should have been anchoring the innings while hitters like Guptill, Jimmy Neesham and Colin de Grandhomme attacked around them. By the time Guptill donated his wicket with a half-hearted cut, the Kiwis were 4-82 and the match got away from them.
It must be said Australia bowled extremely well. In response to the slow surface they had no slips in place from as early as the third over and instead concentrated on bowling straight, with a ring field in place. This plan was well executed by all the quicks, with Pat Cummins (3-25 from eight overs), Josh Hazlewood (2-37 from ten overs) and Mitch Marsh (3-29 from seven overs) especially impressive.
It’s hard not to feel, though, that this limp performance by NZ was further evidence of their mental block when playing in Australia. Over the past five years the Kiwis have been a strong side in all three formats. That has been arguably the most successful era in NZ’s entire cricket history. Yet in that time they have gone win-less in their 12 matches against Australia in Australia, across all formats.
They arrived in Australia earlier this summer as the world’s number two ranked Test team and proceeded to get thumped 0-3. Now they’ve returned to Australia as comfortably the higher ranked ODI side, fresh from tying the World Cup final against England, and played like a team that was intimidated by their opposition.
Not to mention that this very same opposition was vulnerable, with Australia coming off a 0-3 ODI hammering in South Africa last week. This was a gilded opportunity for the Kiwis to finally banish their Australian hoodoo. All they did was add further credence to the theory they’re spooked by playing here.
There are, of course, still two matches remaining in this series. NZ could yet complete a major turnaround. Australia are a long way from their best at the moment, with their batting out of sorts. The Kiwis appeared to be the better balanced team leading into this series.
The one thing lacking is self-belief.