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'Keep this up and Australia might wait 16 years before touring next time': The Liebke Report Card

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3rd March, 2024
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Australia, astonishingly, deigned to make the lengthy journey to New Zealand for their first Test series over there in eight years.

Excited at the rare presence of his baggy green visitors, Tim Southee won the toss and accepted the rare present of a bigly green pitch.

Here’s the report card for the first Test of the New Zealand v Australia series.

Blaring Horns of Shame

Grade: D-

Southee led from the front, bowling a front foot no ball for the first time since 2015 as he strained to take early wickets.

Sadly, there was no siren to celebrate the moment, the unassuming New Zealanders, as ever, too polite to draw attention to such a minor front-foot faux pas with anything so crass as a blaring horn of shame.

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What they weren’t too polite to do, however, was dominate the Australian batting order, taking 4/28 either side of lunch to have the visitors suddenly in trouble at 4/89.

Keep this kind of stuff up, lads, and Australia might make it sixteen years before touring next time.

Standing predictably tall amid the tumble of wickets was Cameron Green, Australia’s favourite giant puppy cricketer. Could he bring up his second Test century before stumps? More importantly, could he bring it up before Matt Henry knocked over Josh Hazlewood, the last man in?

Showing the kind of lack in faith in Hazlewood that might, under different galactic, chronological and cinematic circumstances, be described as ‘disturbing’, Green thrashed a trio of boundaries in the final over of the day to secure his ton, like a very good boy indeed.

He finished on 103*, with Australia 9/279 and the match nicely poised.

Pretty much a perfect first day of a Test match. Well done to almost everybody involved.

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Terrible Dawning Realisations

Grade: D+

So perfect was the first day of this Test in setting up an evenly matched spectacle that on the morning of the second day, I jumped on a plane to Wellington to see the rest of the match.

Sure, I’d miss the first session while I was in the air, but hopefully not too much would happen during the flight.

Imagine my surprise when I landed to see that nothing had happened. I got my New Zealand eSim set up, only to discover that none of the online scorecards were refreshing. Was this some kind of bizarre Kiwi 4G network regulation? What was going on?

No, you stupid websites. I don’t want to see the score from stumps last night. Show me the score now. I can see through the window of the plane that the sun is out. I know they must be playing. What’s the score in New Zealand’s innings?

And then… the slow, terrible dawning realisation that the scoreline wasn’t 9/279. It was 9/379.

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Oh, no. Oh, no. Oh, no, no, no.

Cameron Green of Australia celebrates his century during day one of the First Test in the series between New Zealand and Australia at Basin Reserve on February 29, 2024 in Wellington, New Zealand. (Photo by Hagen Hopkins/Getty Images)

Cameron Green – Australia’s favourite giant puppy cricketer. (Photo by Hagen Hopkins/Getty Images)

Bargaining

Grade: C-

As the grim reality of Green and Hazlewood’s record tenth wicket partnership enveloped me, I blitzed through denial, skipped anger entirely, and went straight to bargaining.

Well, maybe the pitch has flattened out and New Zealand will amass a similar total, I reasoned. Might even get to see a day of Kane Williamson amassing yet another century to add to his recent stellar run of form. That would be delightful. 

And, oh, here’s the wicket of Tom Latham falling, to bring Williamson to the crease just as I arrive at the ground. That’s perfect. Now, time to settle in and… well, that’s odd. Why are he and Will Young crashing straight into one another in the middle of the pitch?

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Huh. Williamson, comically run out for a duck.

Never mind. Here’s a place to sit. Let’s just enjoy Rachin Ravindra’s delightful brand of effortless, floppy-haired batting. 

Well, now, what’s he doing?

Twicelings

Grade: B

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Before anybody knew what was happening, New Zealand were 5/29 in the 18th over.

A counterattack from Glenn Phillips, Tom Blundell and Matt Henry saw them reach 179, and while they took the wickets of Steve Smith and Marnus Labuschagne in the final half-hour, a dropped chance off Nathan Lyon from the final ball bookended a terrible day for New Zealand.

Lyon continued on the next morning, amassing a breezy 41 (46). (This, I believe, is why the locals call the city ‘breezy Wellington’.)

But Phillips (!) tore through the Australian batting, as they fell from 3/81 to 7/139.

Again, Green remained, leading some fans to theorise that perhaps he simply couldn’t be dismissed in New Zealand.

Perhaps the tall-rounder was revered as a deity among the locals, a towering twiceling from the mystical Westlands, whose very presence commanded awe and reverence.

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At the crease, he terrified with his ability to wield his willow like the staff of a mighty sorcerer, sending the ball, a foul imp of darkness, to its doom with his every blow. The ballads further sang of how, despite his enormous physique, he danced between the wickets with the nimble grace of an elf, evading the—

Oh, wait. Phillips got him too.

Theory disproven.

Urinal Eyeline Windows

Grade: B+

Oh, but surely if Phillips can take five wickets in an innings from that end, bowling Australia out for 164, Lyon would take between 12 and 16. 

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And so it seemed, as he got rid of both Latham and Williamson cheaply.

(I witnessed the latter wicket through a specially designed viewing window in the men’s toilets. A urinal with a small window at eyeline height that lets you look out to see Kane Williamson caught at leg slip? What a cricket ground! What a country!)

But the wicket of Williamson simply brought Ravindra to the crease, who serenely brought up his half-century to guide New Zealand to 3/111 at stumps.

The home side dared to dream. But the Australians dared to vigorously shake them awake with the reality of the situation. Pat Cummins, standing calmly, yet watchfully, in the field the next morning, hands behind his back like a schoolteacher on lunch duty keeping an eye out for litterers, marshalled his bowlers.

Lyon completed a five wicket innings haul, then a ten wicket match haul, as New Zealand wickets tumbled.

The possible upset result on this fourth day was now no longer a New Zealand win, but a Lyon Player of the Match award. After all, he’d top-scored for Australia in the second innings, as well. All these wickets were just a garnish.

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Luckily, Green was given a bowl, and almost immediately took a wicket, to prove it wasn’t such a big deal. 

The Player of the Match award was his. (Australia won the Test by 172 runs, too.)

Better luck next time, Nathan.

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