Black Caps on their knees, again. —Dominion Post headline, Saturday 4 January 

Great expectations

By Roger Childs

Sydney third testThe start of the third test at the Sydney Cricket Ground did not augur well for the New Zealand cricketers. Having been beaten in the first two matches by 247 and 296 runs respectively, the Black Caps needed to be at full strength for the final test which the Aussie commentators and media expected to be another comprehensive win for the home side.

However, a virus laid low captain Kane Williamson, front line batsmen Henry Nicholls and all-rounder Mitchell Santner. Then coach Gary Steed sensationally dropped front line bowler and vice-captain, Tim Southee, who had taken nine wickets in the Perth test. Tom Latham was thrust into the captaincy role and reinforcements were called for.

Having also lost two pacemen to injury earlier in the series – Trent Boult and Lockie Ferguson – the Black Caps took the field with very much a second string team. Surely they would be easy meat for an unchanged and super confident Australian eleven.

First day to Australia

Not surprisingly the home side had a good day. Although the two openers were gone after 92 runs had been scored, top Aussie batsmen Steve Smith and the summer’s batting sensation, Marnus Labuschagne, put on 166 for the third wicket. Smith fell for 63 shortly before the end of play, however at 283 for three, a first innings score in excess of 500 at least, looked on. 

Sydney third test Marnus LabuschagneLabuschagne has been the big batting find for the Australians in 2019. He scored three consecutive centuries against Pakistan and has continued his good form in the Black Caps series. Whereas most observers expected super stars Smith and David Warner to be the big scorers in the series, it has been Labuschagne who has scored by far the most runs. He ended the day on 130 not out and with MatthewWade set on 22, the Black Caps seemed destined to have a long hot day in the field on Saturday.

Fight back

Marnus Labuschagne didn’t disappoint on day two and went on to reach a well compiled 215. At 410 for 5 an enormous first innings total was clearly in prospect, but then came the fight back. Rookie skipper Latham changed his bowler around skillfully to mix pace and spin, and the result was a collapse in the Australian lower order. Much to the horror of the commentators and spectators, the last five wickets fell for only 44 runs and instead of possibly 600+, the first innings total was a more modest 454.

This is still a highly competitive score.

That Australia are in the box seat is down almost single-handedly to Marnus Labuschagne. He plundered his maiden double-century in a superb display of concentration and accumulation. Around him batsmen came and went, and the tail refused to wag, making his 215 all the more valuable and impressive. —Jonathan Howcroft, The Guardian, 3 January  2020

The commentators confidently expected the devastating Australian pace attack would further increase the home side’s advantage and pick up a few quick wickets in the final session on day two.

How wrong they were. Black Cap openers Tom Blundell who scored 120 in the Melbourne test, and Tom Latham were still together at stumps with the score on 63. So the day ended with the honours even. Nevertheless, there is a long way to go for the visitors. They are still 391 runs behind, but do have all their wickets intact.

Sydney third test Wagner claims Warner's wicketSo the second day finished with the Black Caps in a much better position than most fans would have expected, but there is much to do on day three if the team is to avoid a 3-0 whitewash in the series.