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'You want a century in a run chase, you get it before Cummins arrives': The Liebke Report Card

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Expert
11th March, 2024
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At the beginning of this second Test between New Zealand and Australia, the Australians formed a guard of honour for Marais Erasmus standing in his final Test.

It was a lovely touch from Pat Cummins and his men. But, also, presumably, an attempt to get the odd umpire’s call to go their way. (Things can be both respectful and manipulative. Like asking somebody if they want the last slice of pizza while you’re already looming over it.) Did it work? Read on to find out.

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

Wafer-Thin Edges

Grade: F

Pat Cummins won the toss and elected to let Josh Hazlewood ‘do some messed up stuff’.

(I’m cleaning up the language based on legal advice from Cricket Australia.)

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After Mitchell Starc broke the opening partnership, Hazlewood bowled a preposterous spell either side of lunch (17 overs, 21 maidens, -3 runs, 4 wickets, something like that) to get rid of Tom Latham, Rachin Ravindra, a couple of burritos, Daryl Mitchell, Kane Williamson and Kane Williamson’s review.

New Zealand had seemingly had the better of the first session after being put in, yet were somehow 5/84 shortly after lunch. They got that total to 162 before the innings ended when Cameron Green’s keen ears detected a wafer-thin edge on Matt Henry’s defensive prod at Hazlewood.

More impressively, he convinced Cummins to send it upstairs despite Marnus Labuschagne’s insistence that he, too, heard an edge. 

Imaginary Infighting

Grade: C-

Hazlewood’s effort was matched, then surpassed by Henry, who stepped up and tore through the Australian top order to bring Nathan Lyon, Australia’s new number six, to the crease to see out the first day. 

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Despite having to explain the basics of the whole nightwatching caper to Labuschagne several times over (‘I face as many balls as possible, you stay at the non-striker’s end’, ‘ah, got it, yes, that makes sense’, ‘because we don’t want to lose you just before stumps’, ‘I see, yes, and that’s why I’ll face the balls’, ‘no, no. I’m facing the balls’, ‘come again?’), the pair comically stumbled their way to stumps four wickets down and just 38 runs in arrears. 

Henry continued his one man onslaught against Australia on the second day, however, removing Lyon for 20 and Mitchell Marsh for a four-ball duck.

Glenn Phillips then decided to make it a two-man onslaught by coming on to bowl and immediately taking the wicket of Alex Carey, before spectacularly holding onto a quarter-chance from Labuschagne on what cricketing perverts like to call ‘the stroke of lunch’.

(To be fair, it was an exciting catch.)

Henry, annoyed by Phillips’ attempts to join his one-man onslaught (‘how can a one-man onslaught have two men, GP? How does that work, champion?’ he could be heard sniping over the stump mic), took Australia’s last two wickets to finish with seven-fer.

Matt Sevenry, people started calling him (although, again, this was mostly picked up over the stump mic and sounded very much like Phillips having a sarcastic pop back).

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Groundhog Day Rip-Offs

Grade: D-

But, of course, despite this imaginary infighting, New Zealand were still almost a hundred runs in arrears. After Will Young fell in the third over to Starc, they lost steady wickets throughout the rest of the day, scrambling past the Australian total with a mere… huh… that’s odd… nine wickets in hand?

Well, what’s happening here?

Turns out this steady loss of wickets didn’t happen either. 

Instead, Latham and Williamson put on a century partnership to guide New Zealand into the lead, Williamson bringing up his ninth 34th half-century.

Yes, that sounds insane, but this one is true. Because of the way cricket maintains stats, Williamson had previously registered his 34th half-century on eight occasions, but on each of those occasions, he’d gone on to make it a century, boosting his century tally by one, but resetting his half-century tally to 33 again, like he was in a dreadful New Zealand Groundhog Day rip-off.

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On none of those previous occasions had he faced Cummins, however, who decided he’d had an absolute gutful of this time loop batting and had Williamson chopping on in the first ball of a new spell.

“I got you, babe!” Cummins was heard to cry, and the crowd laughed as one.

(This may also not have happened.)

New Spells

Grade: A-

The entire notion of taking wickets with the first ball of a new spell was one Australia clung to.

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Cummins had Ravindra caught off the first ball of a new spell. Then Green bowled the first ball of a new spell and had Tom Blundell caught by a diving Labuschagne. Lyon bowled the first ball of a new spell and dismissed Phillips.

Sure, there were a smattering of other wickets from deliveries that weren’t the first ball of new spells. But they were clearly just coincidences.

This was the future. This was how it was done. From now on, all Australia would ever bowl was first balls of new spells.

The first ball-new spell tactic saw New Zealand ultimately dismissed for 372, setting Australia 279 runs for victory.

It was almost the perfect target on a pitch still playing reasonably well. Large enough to give New Zealand hope, but not so large that Australia felt it impossible. All they would have to do was see off the new ball and they would be well on the way.

Naturally, then, they were 4/34 after 14.2 overs, as Ben Sears and Matt Henry bowled with searing and henrying pace, respectively. 

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Retracting Guards

Grade: D-

Early on the fourth and final day, Australia slumped to 5/80, when, one ball after Marsh was dropped slapping one straight to a fielder, Travis Head showed him how it was done.

But the Head wicket served only to bring Carey to the crease, and he and Marsh proceeded to guide Australia to the brink of victory. Were New Zealand really going to mess this up?

With 59 runs still needed, however, Sears had Marsh trapped LBW. Erasmus fired him out and the review showed that it was umpire’s call, so Marsh had to go.

Before Cummins could even think about retracting that guard of honour, Starc was out first ball, and the match had flipped on its head. Were Australia really going to mess this up?

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No, as it turned out. Because Cummins came to the crease and hogged enough of the strike to deny Carey his ton, smacking the winning runs while leaving his keeper stranded on 98*.

Let that be a lesson, Alex Carey. You want a century in a fourth innings run chase, you get it before Patrick Cummins arrives at the crease.

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