Australia’s real test is lurking across the Tasman


Form team: New Zealand’s innings defeat of England in the first Test proved the Black Caps will be a worthy opponent on these shores.Credit:Getty

The Kiwis are ranked No.2 behind India in Test cricket and trounced England in the first Test of their short series, a series that, inexplicably, does not count towards the Test cricket championship.

The Black Caps also came within a single run, or a couple of boundaries, depending on your statistical bent, of winning the 50-over World Cup.

They are operating without the services of their fastest bowler, Lockie Ferguson, who was so dynamic in the World Cup. The seam bowlers are doing a terrific job. Neil Wagner, the apparently modest left-armer, works outside the visible spectrum with the temperament of Dennis Lillee and the physique of Wilhelm Richard Wagner. He is ranked No.3 in the world, ahead of No.9 Josh Hazlewood and No.17 Mitchell Starc. Trent Boult is No.11.

The Kiwis have a trio to match the Australians no matter what the conditions, although injury may yet play a part in who arrives on Australian shores.

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Left-arm finger spinner Mitchell Santner joins the ranks of genuine all-rounders with a century in Mt Maunganui, along with wickets and a stunning catch. He may finish his career with better numbers than his bespectacled fellow tweaker Dan Vettori. Colin de Grandhomme, favoured in the short forms, nonetheless finds a way to contribute with bat and red ball.

The trick is to compete, to find a way to get the job done no matter the conditions, the opponent or the scoreboard. And the Kiwis are mastering this.

Durban-born BJ Watling looks like the kind of bloke you would get to mind your pets while you’re on holiday, but can’t get out of the house once you get back. If patience is a virtue then Bradley-John could bat in the middle order for the Heaven First XI. New Zealand’s unobtrusive and unflamboyant are proving effective.

Is this the best Kiwi side to visit Australia since Richard Hadlee’s men of the mid-1980s? Probably.

John Wright, Bruce Edgar, Martin and Jeff Crowe, Jeremy Coney, all-rounder Hadlee and gutsy batting wicketkeeper Ian Smith made for a winning combination. Although spin bowling is a no-contest with left-arm Vaughan Brown versus Santner, given Brown’s only Test wicket was modestly earned while Hadlee was getting nine at the other end at the Gabba in 1985.

Gold standard: The current Kiwi side measures up well against the New Zealand side of 1985.

Gold standard: The current Kiwi side measures up well against the New Zealand side of 1985.Credit:Peter Morris

The overly competitive John Bracewell replaced Brown for the latter Tests and began an excellent
international career. Ewen Chatfield and Martin Snedden supported Hadlee, neither of substantive
speed, but with plenty of subtle skills.

Hadlee had cut his pace in proportion to his run-up, but was the finest seam bowling practitioner of his time. He could almost bowl a team out by himself and came quite close on occasion. His persistent threat at one end led to greater batting risks taken at the other.

He bowled 20-plus overs a day, but judged the length of spell and resting interval as well as any before or since. There was rarely more than an hour’s respite from his probing and incisions. His bowling partners just had to keep the miserly pressure going and the stress would lead to breakthroughs.

One of a kind: Richard Hadlee rarely gave any quarter.

One of a kind: Richard Hadlee rarely gave any quarter.Credit:Sydney Morning Herald

The current New Zealand team have quality reserves in the slow bowling department, too, with leggie Ish Sodhi (recently schooled by Stuart MacGill) and Ajaz Patel, who is better than useful. The New Zealanders come prepared for Perth and for Sydney.

The captaincy of the shrewd theatre-lighting engineer Coney compared to the Black Caps’ one true modern superstar in Kane Williamson is not much of a contest. Coney, the modest batsmen who bowled a few wobblers, against the world’s No.3 batsman; both men with calm exteriors getting the most out of disparate characters.

This Black Caps platoon has the huge advantage that they have learnt how to win. Their World Cup success was constructed around individuals with well-integrated plans, and the team meshes well.

The commonality of the teams of the 1980s and 2019 is perhaps that their total output is greater than the sum of the individual parts.

Hadlee was the superstar in the 1980s; Williamson is the superstar of today. But New Zealand teams have come a fair journey in the past 30 years or so. There is depth, in part provided by the benefits of an expansive immigration policy, that sees the current team clearly multicultural.

World class: Kane Williamson is clearly a cut above his 1985 predecessor Jeremy Coney.

World class: Kane Williamson is clearly a cut above his 1985 predecessor Jeremy Coney.Credit:AP

Brendon McCullum’s legacy is that he forged a competitiveness that they can take on, and beat, the world’s best, while maintaining a respectful view of opponents.

Australia are ranked three places below their neighbours across the ditch for good reason, but are feeling very comfortable on home turf at the moment thanks to Pakistan playing them into form.

Expect a much more tense contest over the next three Tests for I reckon that this current Black Caps team would give Coney’s men a touch-up … unless Hadlee got the new ball on a grassy Gabba seamer.

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