Australia v New Zealand – Gabba Test, Day 1: Damp Squibs and Unmitigated Tripe

What a fizzer. After promising to go off like a fat, double-taped bunger in a metal garbage bin, day 1 of the First Test at the Gabba proved to be the soggiest of damp squibs. Sure, there was some good cricket played – 98% of it by the Australian batsmen. And yeah, there were milestones surpassed and places cemented and reputations enhanced but, as a contest, it was a non-starter.

Pre-match, toss won, Australia set to bat, a case can be made for this Test (and series) as a possible cracker. You’ve got the improved and improving Kiwis playing a bright, attacking, attractive brand of cricket. They’ve got a couple of opening bowlers who have been anointed by “Paddles” Hadlee as New Zealand’s greatest ever new ball pairing.  Admittedly, the New Zealand Fast Bowling Hall Of Fame is not an institution that’s stuffed full of exotic treasures and bursting at the seams, but there’s no doubt that Southee and Boult are a class swing bowling combo. Arrayed against them is an Australian batting line-up that looks, if not a bit ropey, then at least unproven. Our top 6 consists of a couple of second-chancers, a mercurial (albeit allegedly maturing) tonk merchant, a greybeard, a marginal all-rounder and one bona fide megastar. The possibilities are fascinating.

As seems to be the custom before every Test these days, there is some sort of protracted on-field ceremonial palaver to be gotten through before hostilities commence. In today’s case, it is martial in nature. These observances, while often worthy and containing points of interest in themselves, override and detract from the quiet buzz of anticipation that is the rightful pre-first-session atmosphere. The whole conflation of sport, patriotism and armed conflict thing I can do without, also. In the battle of the anthems, the Kiwis get the chocolates. Our lass delivers a note-perfect, line-and-length rendition of our national tune, but the Enzedder knocks it out of the park. Standing ramrod straight, sporting an extraordinary hat (red-banded, part-Akubra, part-Mountie, fully awesome), the redoubtable Aotearoan military man stirs the heart of every Silver Ferner with a rousing call to arms. That’s the way to deliver an anthem. Commit, stand tall, reach down deep inside your soul and deliver from the pancreas. Splendid, rousing stuff.

We love Joe Burns at our joint. We were there on Boxing Day last year to see him play his first Test for Australia. Sharing a player’s debut always give you a keen sense of fellow feeling for him, and an interest in his progress. After being (in our view) unlucky to miss out on the Ashes, it’s good to see him get another chance. Paired with him (of course) is DA Warner, who has (also of course) been running his mouth in the lead-up on how the Kiwis ought to go about their cricket. I find this stuff wearisome. If you want to show everyone who’s boss, do it on the green sward with bat and ball, not in the hotel lobby. My own personal jury is out on Warner. Fellow cricketers speak of his newfound maturity. We hear from good judges about his cricket brain. His social media musings on politics and family life and frogs are undeniably charming and bespeak an appealing vulnerability. But his bellicose pre-match jibber jabber and self-appointment as guardian of the spirit of Test cricket I can get by without. He was consistent enough in England, but as a bloke who hasn’t racked up a ton for 303 days, perhaps it is time for DA Warner to close the pie-hole and let the bat do the talking.

Bit of an arm-wrestle early. Southee drops straight into an excellent line and length, moving the ball away from Burns, beating the bat. This is a good test of Burns’s sangfroid. Can he put the inevitable plays-and-misses behind him, and take each cherry as it comes? At any rate, his footwork looks pretty decisive – a good sign. If anything, it looks a fraction exaggerated, his long, hamstring-stretching stride in defence indicative of a bloke who keeps telling himself that it is important to get forward. Warner, the newly minted vice-captain, is watchful and, perhaps, just slightly short of prime batting nick at the other end. Several attempted off-drives come off the inside part of the bat with a non-euphonious clank. His trademark gravedigger pull shot keeps things ticking over when Boult offers up a bit of short stuff, but you sense he is fighting a battle. Boult himself is fighting a battle, too. Reportedly underdone coming into this fixture, he looks it. Now and then he gets it right and produces a jaffa, but his length is variable and he strays onto the pads too often. When Burns eventually gets off the mark, after a couple of dozen balls faced, it is from a wide delivery by Boult. The relief among his home crowd is palpable.

The tale of the Kiwi opening spell is the tale of the day. All day long, Southee builds pressure at one end, and all day long the bloke at the other end lets the batsmen off the hook, except during those periods when Southee is not operating, when nobody builds any pressure at all. Where Boult is at least an intermittent threat, the other bowlers offer no threat whatsoever. They can’t even succeed in putting things in a holding pattern while Southee recovers in order to bowl another spell. Cast in the role of journeyman containers of the run rate, Bracewell and Craig let their captain down. Bracewell, optimistically described on the commentary by Mark Nicholas as a South African-style hit-the-deck merchant, starts off fairly solidly, gently jagging the ball back into Burns from short of a length, but his bowling soon deteriorates into a farrago of short, overpitched and leg-stump-line dross. He does get some unexpected bounce every once in a way, but Morne Morkel he ain’t. Craig presents at the bowling crease in a pair of immaculately d-baggy red and white straight-templed sunglasses. He looks more like a chippie’s apprentice at a Colac Cup buck’s turn than a Test cricketer, and bowls accordingly. Craig puts good revs on the lozenge, and extracts good bounce, but his control is awful. Over the course of the day, he sends down 20-plus overs of unmitigated tripe. A bloke like Burns, feeling his way back into Test cricket, couldn’t have hoped for a friendlier welcome.

The other 2 bowlers who get some usage are Williamson and Neesham. Williamson is a stop-gap type who gets the odd over for novelty’s sake or when McCullum wants to change ends with one of his quicks. He bowls serviceably, according to his lights. Neesham, on the other hand, is an alleged allrounder and, judged by that standard, his 7 overs for the day are heinous. Bowling with a similar style to Mitch Marsh, he makes that trundler look like Dennis Lillee in comparison to himself, bowling some balls so short and wide that they would earn a coach’s rebuke for a 9 year old C-grader.

Faced with this spud gun attack, Burns and Warner overcome their early scratchiness and make hay. Carefully seeing off the periodical interventions by Southee, they plunder the rest. Burns grows in stature as a Test player before our eyes, skipping down the track and lofting Craig deep into the outfield. Thrillingly, for this 70s-reared cricket fan, he hooks with daring and skill. His cutting is efficient and assured. Most satisfyingly, as an aspiring long-term Test opener, he offers a full face in defence and scores heavily in front of the wicket. His batting partner’s timing and self-belief get better as the day goes on. If his start to the day was introverted and  Rogersesque, by the middle of the afternoon he’s 100% Davey Warner, life of the party. The short stuff and wide stuff gets bludgeoned through the off-side ring. The fuller, straighter stuff goes back over the bowler’s head. Vintage Warner. By the time Burns loses his wicket to Southee (of course), Australia is well on top at 1/161.

The other second-chancer, Usman Khawaja, must have been champing at the bit to get into the middle and get stuck into this lacklustre bowling. While he is undeniably stylish and elegant, I’ve got some reservations about him, mainly centred on footwork, as a top order player against really good quick bowling. These don’t apply here today. From the word go, he looks a million bucks, his lovely, flowing strokeplay a delight to the eye. A lofted off drive into the crowd off Craig is the shot of the day. He and Warner build the total rapidly, the only threat to their partnership being Warner’s very apparent fatigue. Never likely to succumb to the bowling, Warner succumbs to his own human frailty on 163, an innings commendable as much for its restraint and responsibility in its early stages as for its brutality later on.

Steve Smith picks up where Warner left off. His back-and-across trigger movement – exaggerated to almost pantomimic proportions by the end of the England tour – has been reined in, but his dead-fish eye remains. He helps himself to the lolly jar until stumps, joining in celebrations for Khawaja’s ton with as much joy as if he’d reached 3 figures himself. A great first day for Australia, a lamentable one for New Zealand. Let’s hope the contest improves from here.


  1. Ahh, S McIntyre.
    A symphony.
    A work of beauty.
    Highlights everywhere.
    Haven’t seen “farrago” in print since University of Melbourne days.
    Love it.

  2. Luke Reynolds says

    Good toss to win. NZ bowling attack very much a work in progress, some much better prospects in their pace bowling ranks than Bracewell. Have seen the Colac chippie’s apprentice bowl much better than he did on day 1. Let’s see how the Kiwis bat on this pitch.

    Fantastic Almanac debut Scott, so many great lines. Keep writing.

  3. Grand debut SMc. Like a man who calls it as he sees it, but in cutting, elegant and whimsical terms. More please.

  4. Dave Brown says

    Welcome Scott, great start with plenty of mediocre cricket to come. It’s hard enough to get tripe at butchers these days, let alone the unmitigated variety.

  5. CITRUS BOB says

    Glad to see you are on the National Anthem band waggon Scott!
    Even the people from Nauru put on a better effort than Australia but the Nzedders top the poll and what about the arrival in NZ for the All Blacks this week? FANTASTIC.
    And all we can come up with is the old pig dirge.
    PS. Anybody wishing to join the NAAS (New Australian Anthem Society) please contact me. Our second meeting will be held at the Old Lutheran’s in SA on November 26th.

  6. Lachlan McIntyre says

    Scotty Mc! Love your work mate. Never fails to amuse and inform! I hope the series becomes more competitive

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