Australia v New Zealand – WACA Day 2: Kiwis salvage pride, but could still end up junked

Rarely accused of charity to opponents, Australian cricket has historically reserved some of its finest condescension for our Antipodean neighbours. With the lonely exception of a 1946 test, New Zealand were only deemed worthy of second XI attention until the 70’s. It took the best efforts of Sir Richard Hadlee in his prime to truly stir us out of indifference. New Zealand’s current touring team began day 2 in Perth at severe risk of putting us back to sleep.

Whatever else you may want to call a first day score line of 2-416 off 90 overs, you certainly can’t accuse it of being a contest. As they did in Brisbane, the Kiwis had unburdened themselves of any victory expectations with an opening day bowling performance as deficient in purpose as any in recent years. If their bowlers didn’t suffer nightmares about David Warner, it would have only been due to sheer exhaustion. As a scorching Saturday dawned, the fear was alive that their plight could get much worse.

So it was considerably against expectations that what ensued actually resembled a test match. Though Southey and Boult still produced no great pace, they at least maintained an offside line. Having failed to produce a maiden in the final 89 overs of day one, Southee now bowled three on the trot. For once, Australia had pause to wonder how their next run would come. There were even signs of the ball swinging. Not least of Kiwi problems so far has been the inhospitality of an Australian El Nino summer to an attack reliant on swing bowling.

New Zealand’s cause was greatly assisted by the fact that, having batted through a test day for the first time, Warner was obviously struggling with his concentration. When Boult went wide of the crease, Warner’s edge was as much due to mental fatigue as any away movement. This innings of 253 shows that Warner is harnessing ruthless efficiency to his great natural power. Some mediocre attacks around the world will be in for some very long days ahead.

Steve Smith also assisted the Kiwi cause by playing a very strange innings. Though he’s become a prolific scorer, Australia’s new skipper still has the occasional day where his feet wander the batting crease in search of clear intent. This was one of those days. The back-and-across movement was too pronounced, the balance not right. With New Zealand maintaining their line outside off stump he was becalmed. As a consequence, Australia added only 28 by the time drinks were taken after 15 overs.

Just as Smith looked likely to get into stride, he aimed the most extraordinary up-country waft at Matt Henry and sacrificed his wicket. It was a swish that would have made Glenn McGrath blush, and it seemed to confuse the rest of Australia’s batting approach. Though Voges and Marsh played neatly enough, they never seemed resolved between making haste or making feast. Once they departed, Australian wickets tumbled aimlessly until Smith called a halt at a more than sufficient 9-559. Though it left the Kiwis with a difficult survival period before tea, Smith still leaves the impression he has yet to get a complete feel for declarations and their timing.

New Zealand spirits would have been improved by claiming 7- 133 for the day, but this wasn’t a statistic to necessarily comfort their batsmen. When Guptill fell for 1 to the inevitable Starc inswinger, there would have been further anxiety. Any side chasing a huge total remains under sustained pressure from circumstance alone.

Fortunately for the sake of the match, Kane Williamson resumed the calm, efficient occupation of the crease he maintained in Brisbane. Tom Latham also looked organised and composed. Together, they steered their team to tea without further loss.

The last session was a finely balanced contest between bat and ball, in conditions still strongly favouring batting. Starc maintained controlled pace with some swing. Johnson muscled extra lift from the occasional delivery. Mitch Marsh contributed a thoughtful spell that could have easily yielded a wicket. Australia consistently challenged, yet Williamson and Latham resisted.

Williamson again provided evidence of his likely ascension to the top ranks of international batting. Like the best players, he can score off back or front foot, and finds the boundary with little apparent effort. His footwork is light, his judgement of length impeccable. Considering the Aussie attack represents a much sterner challenge than New Zealand’s, his efforts so far in the series match anything from the Australians.

Smith flagged his Williamson anxieties when he squandered a review on a play-and-miss just after tea. This was further evidence of how the DRS system is not working. A system of review introduced to correct blatant injustice has, in successive tests, failed to overturn an obvious error because reviews had been used up. While the onus remains on the players to challenge the umpire, they will likely be seduced by circumstantial impulse. The decision to review should be handed back to the umpires alone.

As he did in Brisbane, Latham saw off the new ball and got his side to a promising position, only to be dismissed in loose fashion. He played back to Lyon when he should have been forward, and followed the turn to nick to slip. Should anyone still doubt the value of Nathan Lyon to the current Australian line up, they need only reflect on how superior he has been to Mark Craig in this series.

Ross Taylor looked ill at ease in Brisbane. He began again with a couple of nervous moments against Johnson, but held his composure. Crucially, he survived to stumps as Williamson advanced serenely to an unbeaten 70. At 2-140, New Zealand had much the better of the day, but having conceded so much ground on day one their position remains precarious. Much relies on the how this partnership fares, as well as the one to follow.

Australia’s attack had good individual contributions on a very benign wicket, but they continue to be unconvincing as a combination when faced with stern resistance. Again, Josh Hazelwood was an issue, conceding 48 runs in 10 overs. In an attack where Starc and Johnson are the designated hitmen, Hazelwood still leaks too many runs at the wrong time. Though he has an impressive statistical return in his first 10 tests, Australia really need him to tie up an end to balance the attack and give his captain better control of the game.

Still, this pales as a problem compared to New Zealand’s bowling shortcomings.

It will still take a mighty effort to prevent the series being dead by the time we reach Adelaide. If this transpires, Cricket Australia will have got what their scheduling deserved. Once again, a visiting side was given desultory warm up games, been jumped in the first test, and found precious little scope to recover because of a compressed fixture. This is becoming a familiar pattern around the world. The question for test cricket’s administrators is, do they genuinely care? Or would they rather concern themselves with other priorities?

About John Butler

John Butler has fled the World's Most Liveable Car Park and now breathes the rarefied air of the Ballarat Plateau. For his sins, he has passed his 40th year as a Carlton member.


  1. Thanks JB. Meticulous and insightful as always. Strange day. Australia played like a team that got on the piss to celebrate victory the night before, and struggled with a hangover all day. Smith struggling now that he has been made Head Boy? Have his mates now turned on him? Smith and Warner – Abbott and Turnbull?
    Is Khawaja really Inzaman Ul Haq’s athletic younger brother?

  2. John Butler says

    PB, Just a restoration of what should be the normal balance of proceedings. The Kiwis were too bad to be true on day 1, as they were Brisbane day 1.

    Smith will still be finding his way as skipper, despite the hype. His batting technique has idiosyncrasies that will mean he has the odd off day.

    Overall, Australia will be grateful the Kiwis have allowed them to settle their new boys. Which will make Khwaja’s hammie all the more galling for him.

  3. Peter Warrington says

    Voges and Marsh are clearly batting for their spots every time. and therefore at risk of losing them. Marcus North redux.

    Big Hazlewood defender v Siddle but he just isn’t in form. I would get Pattinson in now. Also not convinced by Johnson’s attempts to be a line and length bowler. I would be inclined to pick a second spinner in Adelaide and play Marsh as what he is, a pretty good seamer who can hot hard – perfect #7 or #8 when your batting lineup is settled.

    Hopefully Mr Khawaja comes good. But I would be considering Carters in and to keep to then allow an additional bowler, or possibly Faulkner.

    Maybe it’s Maxwell as the spinner:

    Warner, Carters, Burns, Smith, Voges, Maxwell, MMarsh, Faulkner, Starc, Pattinson, Zampa

    Like the 72 touring side, only crunchy…

    However, THEY will ruin my summer by picking SMarsh : (

  4. John Butler says

    Food for thought there as always PW.

    Australia’s late innings batting today and in Brisbane looked like it lacked clear instruction. As a result it just drifted. Didn’t matter in either circumstance here, but you would hope things were sorted if the game was tighter.

    A lot to like about Hazelwood. But he’s being asked to play a role at test level he had no real track record of doing at first class level. The same could be said of Burns opening the batting. You can’t complain about how Burns has gone, but is he now going to be regular opener for Queensland?

    Even if it’s a minor hammie Khawaja will be gone for Adelaide, which leaves the selectors with a decision. Their decision will be instructive.

    Maxwell’s just not a good enough bowler to anything more than a bit parter in tests. But he’s an all rounder option because of batting and fielding.

    72 touring side is an interesting counterpoint to the present.


  5. “Is Khawaja really Inzaman Ul Haq’s athletic younger brother?”

    Ha, PB.

    Most concise write-up btw, JB.

  6. John Butler says

    Cheers JD.

    For Chris’s sake, with all the money wasted on BBL fireworks and jugglers, is there any danger we could make sure the sight-screens at the test grounds work? These delays happen way too often.

  7. John Butler says

    Please note sign under the sight-screen – “where the play never stops”

  8. Talking of signs at the cricket – one on the electronic fence signage at the WACA is for “Royal Stag”. I googled, and its the top selling Scotch Whisky in India. And its Pernod Ricard’s top selling Scotch world-wide. Its a marker of how internationalised/TV driven that cricket has become. The largest advertising sign at the WACA is for a product not sold in Australia or New Zealand.

  9. Luke Reynolds says

    Nice write up John. The last paragraph should be up on a wall at the ICC. Every wall.

    I’m a Tom Latham fan. He’s only young, think this young Kiwi opener will be a very, very good player.

  10. Nice review, JB.

    In answer to your last question – it is clearly “other priorities”.
    Gideon’s article in Saturday’s Australian was a brilliant critique of this

  11. Love it, J Butler.

  12. John Butler says

    PB, CA never saw an Indian rupee they could refuse, so why should anyone else differ?

    Luke, Latham would be frustrated. Has done the hard work 3 times in a row then got out when the team needed him to kick on. Nothing wrong with the technique but needs to work on his head.

    Smokie, don’t get to see Gideon’s stuff for the Oz much. I have a problem with donating funds to Rupert if I can help it. And yes, I knew it was a rhetorical question. We need only to look at the fixture to see their priorities.

    Ta, E Reg

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