Melbourne test 1Fresh from a series win over England, the Black Caps were confident they could match the Australians on their home pitches. No way, as the consecutives losses by 296 runs and 247 runs testify. What’s gone wrong? Melbourne based John Smith who watched the second test at the MCG gives his thoughts.

Aussie pacemen dangerous on their home tracks

by John Smith

I spent Thursday and Friday at the MCG — we were in the game for most of Thursday, but then it started to slip away from us. Friday was very disappointing; and losing Kane Williamson at the end was a killer. From then on it went downhill, apart from Blundell who with his 120, was superb on Sunday. 

I don’t think that putting Oz in was the wrong decision; it made complete sense to me. One of the issues we are facing is that with their extra pace the Aussie quicks are more dangerous in their home conditions especially as we are having a very hot dry summer. Perth was always going to be a no-win for the Black Caps in terms of conditions, but Melbourne in normal times might have suited us better.

Boxing Day was mild and overcast but the forecast was for hot dry weather the other days; so the first morning was going to be the only time conditions suited our attack. We were a wicket or two short of making the decision pay off; Australia knew that if they could make it to lunch then it would get easier to bat, which it did. 

Problems with the bowlers

As to why we have been beaten so badly, I think it is a combination of factors. One is the conditions: we knew that we would need extra pace which is why we brought Ferguson over; but he didn’t bowl particularly well in Perth and then got injured. Boult didn’t seem 100% at the MCG — down on pace and not doing much with the ball after the Burns wicket. 

So we were always going to struggle, even without Williamson being handicapped by the poor selection of spinners. Santner is not an attacking spinner at the best of times – especially on these pitches; and I don’t see that Astle would be any better. We have two test class spinners — Patel and Somerville — for my money they should have been over here.

The Australians are full of confidence

Melbourne testWe have struck an Australian team on the upward curve and playing with confidence after hammering Pakistan. One of the commentators pointed out that Cummins, Pattinson and Starc made their test debuts in 2011 in three consecutive tests but that the MCG test was the first time they have all played together. Cummins and Pattinson have had a lot of injury issues and Starc’s form has been very inconsistent. 

So we met the best bowler in the world in tests in 2019 — Cummins — backed up by two very good fast bowlers, and one of the best spinners in world cricket. A very big ask!

Black Caps batting not up to it

I agree that there have been a few batsmen out to poor shots, but I don’t see that as the main reason we have failed – there has been some outstanding bowling and we haven’t been good enough to counter it. Williamson played just about the worst shot I have ever seen him play in the first innings at the MCG – but equally was beaten playing a defensive shot in the second innings. 

Taylor played a loose shot in the second innings, as did Latham. De Grandhomme played a brainless shot in the second innings; given that Blundell was close to a century I thought it was inexcusable.

Melbourne test Tom BlundellThe exception was Tom Blundell. I had liked the way he approached things in the first innings: he didn’t look overawed and struck the ball sweetly.  His second innings hundred has to go down as one of the great New Zealand test innings — against that attack on that ground after seeing Latham, Williamson and Taylor out so early.

Williamson’s captaincy – letting things drift

I agree with the criticisms of Williamson’s captaincy: I have always felt that he can have a tendency to let a game drift, as opposed to McCullum who was always looking to make changes and get wickets. He went defensive in both tests, settling for slowing the run-rate down which played into Paine’s hands — in both instances he wanted us coming in late on the second day; and in both cases it worked out perfectly for him.

The frustrating thing watching at the MCG was that he didn’t seem to react to the conditions. The bowlers were not getting sharp enough lift of the pitch to justify bowling short – very few wickets on either side fell to short balls – and the Australians had set themselves to either let them go or play them down – yet he kept going all day with 5 men on the leg-side and no third man – so every time we found the edge – which Southee did a number of times – it went for 4.

I hope there is a brutal review within the team before Sydney — and that they fly Patel or Somerville over. (Somerville is headed for Sydney)