Saturday, February 13, 2016

New Zealand v Australia, First Test, Basin Reserve, Second Day, 13 February 2016

We’ve been here before. At the Basin Reserve tests of both the last two years, in fact. New Zealand skittled on a green pitch on the first day; the opposition runs up a good lead on the second. So what happens next? According to precedent, BJ Watling breaks the world sixth wicket partnership record. This he did against India in 2014 with Brendon McCullum, and against Sri Lanka last year with Kane Williamson. If the laws of probability intervene to prevent this, New Zealand are in a heap of trouble, as you tend to be if you finish the second day with the opposition 280 ahead with four wickets standing.

The day was a little pedestrian. In the seventies we would have been thrilled with 316 runs in a day’s play, but only three wickets fell, so it is churlish to think that Australia should have motored on a bit more?

Usman Khawaja’s century was the best cricket of the day. He reached three figures off a Craig long hop, though the Basin scoreboard had a bulb missing as usual, so some spectators thought he was moving from 95 to 99. Khawaja went on to make 140 with an ease and repertoire of shot that makes him a delight to watch. He has had a stuttered start to his international career, but four hundreds in 13 tests speaks for itself. Almost 30, he looks set to emulate Mike Hussey in having a late start to a notable career.

Adam Voges’ figures are similar, and he batted all day to finish unbeaten on 176. This is worthy of high praise of course. And yet… Of course, the fact that he was bowled off an erroneously called no ball in the last over yesterday may colour the judgement of his innings. Perhaps the runs he scored today should be properly credited to the career record of umpire Richard Illingworth, which would more than double his nine-test batting aggregate.

Voges scored only 33 in the morning session, and took 203 balls to reach three figures; against a tiring attack on a flat track. By way of variation, Craig offered up a full toss to help him across the line.

Voges did speed up later in the day, with some strong cuts and drives, but there were plenty of edges too. It wasn’t fluent. This innings  reminded me of Keith Fletcher of Essex and England, not in its style, but in its anonymity. Fletcher scored seven test hundreds, but hands up who can remember any of them. Thought not.

But Voges has put his side in a winning position, which was why he was picked.

Two of the three wickets to fall today went in the same Boult over. Khawaja was leg before playing back to the new ball. It looked a bit high and it was surprising that he didn’t call for a review. New Zealand did take this option next ball for a leg before against Mitch Marsh. We might balance the deserved tsunami of praise for Brendon McCullum with this thought: he is a shocking DRS decision maker. This one got the trifecta: pitched outside leg, inside edge and missing.

Marsh lasted only one more ball. Boult took a glorious return catch, flinging himself to his right in his follow through, and holding on with his fingertips. He has a history of making corking catches in Basin tests: Rahane and Ramdin were other victims in recent years.

Marsh, Phillips, Healy, Gilchrist, Haddin. A line of keepers noted for their attacking, joyful batting. It seems that the chain has been broken with Peter Nevill, who made a stodgy 32 from 94 balls.

The New Zealand attack persevered, but was largely unthreatening. Off spinner Mark Craig keeps taking wickets at this level but does not exert pressure. To put it another way, he does not take wickets at the other end as a good spinner should do. Neither was Corey Anderson’s reputation enhanced. There was bluster, but no bite and there were four runs or more an over for the taking.

So it was the same old story in trans-Tasman sport (apart from the rugby, obviously): hope with disappointment in its wake. But it was a fine day with a sold out signs up, so not bad at all.

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