12 December 2011

9504 days

The last time New Zealand beat Australia in a test match on their home soil:

  • The date was Wednesday, 4 December 1985
  • Richard Hadlee took 11 wickets in a low-scoring match
  • It was 26 years and eight days ago
  • (Which is 9504 days in total)
  • The government of each country was led by Prime Ministers Bob Hawke and David Lange
  • The lunar phase was waning gibbous (apparently)
  • The no.1 song in the UK pop charts was Wham! with I'm Your Man
  • And five of today's victorious NZ team had yet to be born (Guptill, Williamson, Bracewell, Southee and Boult).

This 2nd test in Hobart has been a brilliant seesawing competition, with all the hallmarks of a great test match. Each team rallied from seemingly fatal blows and no-one ever seemed to dominate. It was also doubly exciting because the New Zealand team had suffered an abject loss in the first test in Brisbane, and had even lost its former captain Daniel Vettori to injury on the morning of the match. 

The New Zealand batting woes seemed to continue in the first innings - sent in to bat by the Australian captain Michael Clarke, they quickly succumbed to poor stroke-play and crafty bowling, slumping to 83/6 at lunch and then all out before tea for a miserable 150 in 45.5 overs. But then Australia experienced the same batting jitters, and the four-pronged New Zealand seam attack savoured a rare opportunity to put the usually dominant Australian attack to the sword. From 12/1 at the start of Day 2, Australia plummeted to an astonishing 81/7 at lunch, and were dismissed for a mere 136 in 51 overs, with bowler Peter Siddle's battling 36 preserving some remnants of the Baggy Greens' modesty and preventing a previously unthinkable sub-100 score against New Zealand. New Zealand ground out a painful 226 in their 2nd innnings, setting Australia a target of 241, and for a time they seemed to make it look simple - opening the 4th day with 169 to get, 10 wickets in hand and two days to get the required runs. Surely they would make easy work of it?

But, astonishingly, the New Zealand bowlers managed to knock the top off the Australian batting lineup in the first session. Martin and Boult accounted for a wicket apiece, but young Doug Bracewell was the main instigator, removing the hugely dangerous Ricky Ponting, Michael Clarke and Michael Hussey in the space of two overs, with Clarke and Hussey departing for ducks. The score as the players went for their meals was 173/5, but with David Warner established at the crease and the solid batting of wicket-keeper Brad Haddin to back him up, Australia still fancied themselves the favourites to win the two-match series 2-0. 

Yet following the lunch break New Zealand moved back into contention with a brutal spell of controlled bowling aggression. The 55th and 56th overs saw four Australian wickets fall, with Warner's batting partners operating on a conveyor belt to and from the batting crease. First Tim Southee had Haddin and Siddle caught, and then Doug Bracewell returned in the next over to dismiss Pattinson and Starc. Surely victory was just around the corner?

Australia certainly wouldn't give up without a fight, and the number 11 batsman, the spinner Nathan Lyon, provided a solid defence. The centurion opener Warner and Lyon put on a sterling last-wicket stand, scoring freely for eight overs, edging Australia closer and closer to a stunning victory in the face of adversity. New Zealand was thwarted by the review system, with two umpire decisions reversed and Australian batsmen preserved. It seemed as if it would take a miracle to dismiss the last pair. And yet, with a mere eight runs to get, Doug Bracewell slipped a wicked low delivery through Nathan Lyons' defences, leaving his stumps a shattered mess on the pitch. He had sealed a historic test match win in Australia. In a mere 82 balls following the lunch break, Australia was reduced from a position of dominance to defeat by some inspired and historic bowling. New Zealand had finally triumphed in a test match in Australia after 18 failed attempts and 26 years.  


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Now let's pull back from wild euphoric abandon get all New Zealand-y. While this is a remarkable achievement, and the New Zealand team deserves to drink Hobart's bars dry tonight, we shouldn't pretend that this is a legendary Australian team, or that this victory erases the many weaknesses that plague the New Zealand test team. Brendon McCullum and Jesse Ryder still struggle to adapt to the long game and often throw away their wickets carelessly. Our bowlers regularly break down and there's no strong successor to Daniel Vettori in the spin department. And all too often our bowling attack struggles to dismiss quality opponents twice to win a match.

Remember, in the last five years New Zealand has played 36 matches but only won eight of them. And of those eight test victories, four have been against Bangladesh and one against Zimbabwe. So in the last five years New Zealand's only victories against quality test opponents have been against England in 2008, Pakistan in 2009 and this win against Australia. And it's worth noting that none of those three test victories resulted in a series win for New Zealand: England went on from its first test loss in Hamilton to beat New Zealand 2-1, Pakistan drew 1-all in a 3-match series after losing their first test in Dunedin, and Australia has just drawn 1-all in the two-test mini-series. While this victory is a bracing glimpse of what is possible if the national side becomes more consistent and competitive, New Zealand will have to drastically improve its game if the team is to be taken seriously by quality opponents.

And as for Australia, David Warner and Nathan Lyon should take heart. Neither should be ashamed of their last-wicket attempt, which came so close to victory. Lyon, in particular, should not be held responsible for failing to preserve his wicket. Rather, Australian fans should look to the top order, which (Warner aside) failed to adapt to the pitch and the swing it offered. One thing that is certain: while New Zealand test victories in Australia are rare and fleeting - this is only the third ever! - the one effect they have is concentrating the minds of the Australian cricket community and particularly its leaders. Because if Australia is losing to New Zealand at home, there's definitely major problems in the Australian side.

Now apart from sorting out its test team, Cricket Australia also needs to sort out the ridiculous situation of ceding the man of the match decision to an Australian viewers' poll, which saw Warner given the title despite Doug Bracewell's brilliant match figures of 60/9. No-one can deny that Warner carrying his bat and bringing his team to the brink of victory was an excellent innings, particularly in light of the doubts that some have expressed about his suitability for the test openers' slot. But to award the man of the match prize to a home player when a touring team has pulled off a remarkable victory just looks a little churlish. Hopefully something can be done in time for the next Australian home series against India, which is shaping up to be an exciting measure of how much pressure can be brought to bear on the once-great Australian side.    

See also:
Audio: Ian Chappell - A low point for Australia (6:16)
Video: Victory highlights (2:46)
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