To the Cake Tin (Wellington’s 34,000 capacity all-sport stadium, so-called for its functional architectural style) for the start of Australia’s tour.
The Australians come from an unbeaten season at home in all forms, though against moderate opposition in Pakistan and the West Indies (and almost lost a test against both these teams). I have always enjoyed the ODIs from Australia, which are mostly in the evening, finishing around midnight here, but this year’s were dreary, with no close finishes at all.
New Zealand come from wins in all forms against even less taxing opposition — Bangladesh — but all the Black Caps (as we have learned to call them) played a full domestic season of 20/20, so are more practised in the format than some of the Australians. This, and the fact that New Zealand have a decent record in one-day cricket against Australia, especially at home, led many of us to take an optimistic view of prospects.
How wrong we were. Australia’s victory was overwhelming, routine and dull.
Things went wrong from the first over, in which Brendon McCullum was spectacularly caught by Haddin off Tait. Thereafter Haddin had a shocker, and the Australian fielding generally was well below its usual high standards, which, for the purposes of extending the game beyond dusk, was just as well.
The other opener, Peter Ingram, looked out of his depth, out for a somewhat desperate two from ten balls. For a decade, Ingram has scored plenty of runs in domestic cricket without preferment, but suddenly finds himself in the national team in all three forms. Unless he adapts to bowling considerably faster than he is used to, the next month will be a long one.
For all his pace, I am unconvinced that Tait is not a one-trick pony (though bowling at 150 kph plus is not a bad trick). Later in the innings Gareth Hopkins showed how to use Tait’s pace against him, slicing a six over third man. Mitchell Johnson looked more dangerous, but needed help to take the vital wicket of Ross Taylor.
Step forward Billy Bowden, who gave the bowler a leg-before decision that looked wrong from 90 metres away, and which the TV replay revealed was awful, the ball heading well down the offside, Taylor having moved right across the stumps. One struggles to remember an Australian umpire giving such a crass decision against an Aussie batsman.
There must be provision for some sort of review even in the shorter forms of the game. Thanks to the big screens, everybody in the ground (including Billy, who was looking, presumably for reasons of self-admiration) knew what a stinker it was before Taylor had left the ground.
A partnership of 50 from five overs between Franklin of Gloucestershire and Hopkins threatened to bring New Zealand to the outer edges of respectability before the collapse (without which no New Zealand innings is complete) from 104 for four to 118 all out.
In this situation the best to be hoped for is a quick end with some spectacular hitting. I was looking forward to a first sight of David Warner, and was quite impressed, even though he only got 19. He is a bit more than a mere pinch-hitter.
As ever, Vettori was New Zealand’s best bowler. He got Watson in his first over, the fourth of the innings, and I thought that he should have opened despite the fielding restrictions.
When it came, with four overs to spare, victory was a merciful release for all concerned.
With only a 12-man squad, New Zealand have few options for the second game in Christchurch (I am writing before it has begun) beyond bringing in Southee for Tuffey. Vettori is criminally underused at nine in the batting order, and should open (the batting if not the bowling), as he does in domestic cricket.
However, I’m always critical of people who draw too many conclusions from a single one-innings game, so should beware of casting the first stone.
Next weekend — joy of joys — two days of four-day cricket at the Basin.