New Zealand v Australia Second Test
Saturday February 20, 8:30am
Having retained the Trans-Tasman Trophy with a win in the first test at Wellington, the next stop for Australia is the coveted world number one ranking which they can claim with a win or draw in the second test against New Zealand in Christchurch, starting on Saturday.
The Blacks Caps were on the back foot from the first session at the Basin Reserve where they lost five wickets prior to lunch after being sent in by Steve Smith on a seaming pitch. Their bowlers never got use of the best conditions as the Kiwis’ first innings score of 183 was comfortably surpassed by the Australians who rattled up 562 before knocking over the home side for 327 to secure a comfortable innings victory.
The New Zealand bowlers all toiled away on what became a benign surface with all-rounder Corey Anderson and spinner Mark Craig both conceding more than four runs an over. However the hosts’ batting was their primary concern with none of their top-order able to nullify the swing and seam of the quicks in the first innings or the tight lines produced by all Australian bowlers in the second innings.
Debutant Henry Nicholls compiled a patient 59 in the second dig and will get another chance with Ross Taylor ruled out again. In addition to the continued absence of Taylor and all-rounder Mitchell Santner, the Kiwis will also be without Doug Bracewell who suffered a shoulder injury during the first test. Either Matt Henry or Neil Wagner will replace Bracewell, however there is a chance that both quicks could play with Craig’s place under threat after a series of underwhelming performances coupled with the fact that Black Caps coach Mike Hesson has called for an even greener pitch.
While Australia’s prolific middle-order of Adam Voges (239), Usman Khawaja (140) and Steve Smith (71) took all the plaudits, their victory in Wellington was underpinned by a disciplined and sustained effort with the ball. Josh Hazlewood and Peter Siddle used the conditions superbly in the first innings, while seasoned off-spinner Nathan Lyon was a constant threat, picking up seven wickets for the match. But despite the comprehensive win, not all is well for the visitors with Joe Burns’ first innings failure his sixth score under 30 in his last eight innings.
Similarly, while he continues to contribute strongly with the ball, Mitch Marsh has now been dismissed for single-figures in seven of his past 12 test innings, begging the question as to how long he can continue at number six. However there is no doubt that Marsh will retain his place in the starting XI, especially with Peter Siddle under a fitness cloud after suffering back spasms in Wellington. A fit-again James Pattinson looms as a likely addition to the Australian side, either for Siddle or for Jackson Bird who looked off the pace in his first test match in more than two-and-a-half years. As mentioned Australia only need to avoid defeat to replace India at the top of the ICC world rankings for the first time since July 2014.
Hagley Oval has hosted only one test match which resulted in a comfortable win for the home side over Sri Lanka last summer. Both first-class fixtures this season also produced results with the ball appearing to do a bit early as only three of eight opening partnerships managed to get to 20. It’s also worth noting that in one-day matches at Hagley earlier this summer Sri Lanka were rolled for consecutive scores of 188 and 117 so it’s hard to imagine that the batsmen will be getting many favours.
After their first test win Australia will start shorter favourites ahead of their Kiwi counterparts with the draw again the biggest price of the three. With no weather concerns, reports of a green pitch and the hosts needing a win to square the series there is a good reason why the draw is such a big price and I see no reason to go near it at this stage.
The Australians should take in plenty on confidence from their performance in Wellington, however it is worth noting that, aside from games against the West Indies, they have not won consecutive away tests in a series in almost six years. Also while their bowling and fielding was hard to falter in the first test, their first innings total could have been a lot different had Adam Voges not been given a reprieve on seven via an incorrect no-ball call, while Steve Smith was also dropped on 18, meaning that the Kiwis could feasibly have dismissed five of the Australian top six for under 20 apiece.
The Black Caps also have the propensity to bounce back after a slow start, fighting back from opening losses in recent series’ against England and Pakistan to square the ledger and they haven’t lost consecutive tests in almost three years. Moreover it has been four years since they have lost a test series at home and they will have extra motivation with the match being captain Brendon McCullum’s last in national colours.
However the biggest factor for me in this match will be the conditions which are likely to heavily favour the bowlers. We also have two bowling attacks who are fairly well equipped to take advantage of such assistance with each boasting talented swing bowlers complemented by an extra seaming all-rounder. Last of all we have one batting unit which struggled in Wellington and another which got a bit lucky and has a history of under-performing on seaming pitches. With plenty of room to move in both the Australian and New Zealanders’ prices I’m advocating a strategy whereby we oppose whoever bats first then trade out when that side gets their chance in the field.