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Friday, February 12, 2016

New Zealand v Australia, First Test, Basin Reserve, First Day, 12 February 2016

The contest for sport’s most unoriginally named prize begins. Australia and New Zealand will contest the Trans-Tasman Trophy over two matches this week and next. Where’s the history, the romance, the inspiration? It should be the Clarrie Grimmett Trophy, after the Dunedin-born, Wellington-schooled leg spinner who bowled thousands of overs on the Basin before crossing the Tasman to play 37 tests for Australia, finishing with a world-record 216 wickets.
There has been much conjecture about the pitch ahead of the game, and at the start of the day it did indeed have about it a sufficiently verdant hue to suggest that it would provide a moderately hungry sheep with a decent lunch. In New Zealand we have fixed on the idea that the Australians are flat-track bullies. By way of reinforcing this notion Wellington’s Dominion Post this morning featured a large-type scorecard of Australia’s first innings at Trent Bridge last August, in which they were bowled out for 60.
Alas, Brendon McCullum lost the toss, so it was the home side who were the laboratory beagles testing how toxic the pitch was.
Fifty-one for five by drinks. It wasn’t one of those sessions where the ball was constantly beating or finding the edge. Most of the batsmen—Guptill and Williamson in particular—looked comfortable until they got out. The run rate was more than six an over for the first six overs. But once the bowlers found their line and length the ball did just enough.
Peter Siddle was outstanding. It is difficult to believe that a vegan can bowl such bustling aggression, but today he put the ball on the right spot time and again. Hazlewood bowled better when he had Siddle’s example to follow. Jackson Bird did not have such a good day, bowling an Australian length on a New Zealand pitch.
Anderson and Watling managed a partial recovery with a partnership that took New Zealand through to lunch. Watling and Bracewell were out soon after lunch, but Anderson batted for almost two-and-a-half hours for his 38. Yet it was not an innings that increased confidence in Anderson as a test No 6. It included six fours, which goes to show how difficult he found it to score singles and rotate the strike. At this point Mitchell Santner (absent with a foot injury here) looks a better fit in this position.
Anderson struck Nathan Lyon over mid on for four when the off spinner returned mid-afternoon, but was succoured by a slight change of pace into chipping the next ball tamely to mid off. Tim Southee attempted to get off the mark by slogging over long on and was caught at backward point, giving Lyon his second wicket in two overs at bargain basement cost.
Why Southee bats above Trent Boult is a mystery to everybody who was at the Basin today. That New Zealand finished with as many as 183 was due to Boult, who hit three sixes—stroked would be a better word, such was the refinement of the shots—and put on 46 for the tenth wicket with Mark Craig.
There was early promise for New Zealand, with Southee dismissing both openers in his first two overs. Smith was dropped by Craig at second slip, and Watling missed a tough stumping chance off Craig when Khawaja advanced down the pitch, but there was an ease about the batting of both men that had been absent from New Zealand’s innings. I was a surprise when Smith hit a low return catch to Craig to be dismissed for 71.
New Zealand’s difficult day was compounded in the final over of the day when Bracewell bowled Voges only to have Richard Illingworth call no ball. Replays showed a heel clearly behind the line.
I remember Colin Cowdrey’s hundredth test, at Edgbaston against Australia in 1968. It seemed an extraordinary feat, and some doubted that it would ever be equalled. Today, Brendon McCullum became the 64th to achieve the feat, but he is the first to do so with consecutive appearances, something that we may very well not see again. Cowdrey scored a hundred way back when, but McCullum made a duck today, a Bradmanesque response, perhaps, to a standing ovation.
At the end of the day I was waiting for my Khandallah correspondent to pick me up outside the ground when one of a passing group of young fellows pointed at me and said “look, it’s Tony Greig” (I wear a white hat similar to that sported habitually by the late commentator, and am tall, though not as tall as him). Fortunately, I keep at my disposal a Tony Greig impersonation that suffices on such occasions. Doffing the hat, I said “good awfternoon gentlemen, let’s have a look at the pitch here at the Basin, where it will go like a tracer bullet”. I think that I made their day.

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