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New Zealand circle back to the same old trend in a familiar territory

This was deemed to be the best chance for the Kiwis to end their 34-year drought down under.

New Zealand
New Zealand. (Photo by Gareth Copley/Getty Images)

The unrelenting support from the fans was one of the few things New Zealand boasted as they picked up the pieces from another hammering in Melbourne in the second Test. This time the margin was 247 runs contrary to 296 in Perth. There was Neil Wagner‘s persistence and competitiveness, no matter the conditions or the situation. Then followed Tom Blundell standing apart with the bat and showing the path to resistance.

But the Kiwis, as a side, could only do so much and embarrassed themselves in what initially appeared as a closely fought contest, coming off as a pitiful example compared to the side led by Brendon McCullum in 2015. Their much-vaunted batting line-up comprised of six batsmen averaging over 40.

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An opener in Tom Latham, who had 525 runs under his belt prior to the two Tests in this series. The Kiwis had Ross Taylor and Kane Williamson – two of the greatest batsmen at the peak of their powers, flourishing in their last Test tour to Australia. On this occasion, against the ruthlessness of the Australian quicks, the duo fell flat.

New Zealand also have the best wicketkeeper in Tests at present, BJ Watling, who averages 40 with the bat. Henry Nicholls, who was ranked number five in Test rankings, is counted among the top middle-order batsmen in the world. Furthermore, Colin de Grandhomme started this series, averaging 40 with the willow and not to mention Mitchell Santner, who is more than a handy lower-order batsman.

That is an enormous amount of batting talent they have in their repertoire. That right there is because of which New Zealand have climbed to number two in the ICC Test rankings, ten points ahead of Australia, England, and South Africa.

Yet, it is damning to know that their batsmen couldn’t put the Australian pacers even under modest pressure. The six batsmen in Latham, Taylor, Nicholls, Grandhomme, Williamson, and Watling came to Australia with an imposing reputation; however, their combined average stands at 18.95 after the first two Tests. The series was as good as decided in Perth itself when the BlackCaps succumbed to an Australian side, who were a bowler short for the most part.

The havoc created by the Australian pacers

Australia
Australia. (Photo Source: Twitter)

The hosts’ pace bowlers ripped through New Zealand’s batting line-up, bundling them out cheaply in every inning so far. It goes to show that New Zealand’s batsmen may have accumulated superior numbers in Tests in the last couple of years without facing a pool of high-quality fast bowlers. This time the Kiwis bumped into a pace bowling unit – all in ominous form. Before the series this year, Mitchell Starc, Josh Hazlewood, Pat Cummins, and James Pattinson had 88 wickets between them at 22.26.

At present, after two tests, the pace quartet has 26 wickets at an incredible average of 15.65. Australia also have the luxury of depending upon their rich depth of fast bowlers. James Pattinson, who replaced Josh Hazlewood in Melbourne, ably complemented Starc and Cummins to maintain the pressure level. Pattinson consistently bowled with 140 kph, steaming in to be accurate and create chances for the most part instead of seeking a supernatural occurrence.

The speedster claimed 3-34 in the first innings, including the big wickets of Williamson and Watling, both of whom fell prey to the extra bounce. He returned to create damage in the fourth innings by sending back Latham, Williamson, and Taylor in quick succession. The fiery Victorian’s immediate and telling impact is a testament that Australia can afford to leave out Hazlewood for the third Test in Sydney, allowing him time to recover from his hamstring strain.

The travails of Kane Williamson amid New Zealand’s struggles

Kane Williamson
Kane Williamson. (Photo by Phil Walter/Getty Images)

During the post-match presentations, supporters in Bay 22 of all the stands at the MCG, remained affixed in their seats. After the formalities, Kane Williamson ushered his team across the ground to meet the fans, sign autographs, and click photos. The Kiwi skipper made a blunder at the toss by electing to field and scored only nine runs in two innings.

Other times he watched his Australian counterparts steamroll his team at all facets at will. But that didn’t stop him from greeting his fans and thanking them for displaying the undying passion throughout the match. It is the strength of character, grace, and humility that Kane showcases even in the face of a humiliating defeat which makes him endearing both as a man and player.

It has been tough going for the touring captains in the Australian summer so far against a rampaging bowling attack. Kane Williamson and Azhar Ali have scored 119 runs between them in eight innings. The former has one more Test left to salvage some pride. However, very few things have swung under the skipper’s control. Losing Lockie Ferguson and Trent Boult due to injuries and the poor shot selection of his top-order batsmen are some which are out of his power.

Yet, his captaincy decisions have been baffling and he hasn’t broken free from the shackles to produce the runs. On any day the lbw decision in the second innings in Melbourne would have swayed his way. The delivery from Pattinson strangled down the leg side but managed to dislodge the top of leg stump by a small margin. But that is how it swings in delicate times.

The right-hander made an encouraging start in Perth before Steven Smith pulled off a screamer to send him back for 34 in the first innings. Williamson became Lyon’s victim in his first ball, having gloved a bouncing delivery to short leg in the second. A poor shot selection came in the first innings in Melbourne when he pulled a short delivery off Pattinson towards long leg.

Kane’s tenacity as a captain and batsman has been brutally tested on this tour. It could be the constant piling up of pressure on his side, deemed as the one to break the 34-year drought. Part of it does go to the captain’s strategies, notably giving the ball to Tom Blundell after lunch on the second day in Melbourne instead of bringing his gun pacers.

Brendon McCullum, who groomed this man to build on the foundation laid by him, termed Williamson’s plans as off-colour that went from bad to worse due to which New Zealand kept sliding. And eventually, with another heavy defeat in Melbourne, the visitors have been caught in a loop. For all the optimism around the build-up and the talk about their best chance in Australia since 1985-86, one may have forgotten the massive defeats suffered in the past due to batting collapses.

A defeat in Sydney would not only ensure Australia complete their summer blanking all their opponents, but also likely claiming the number two ranking from their neighbours in Tests. But that wouldn’t be the agenda that drives this Kiwi side to put on a better display in the first Test of a new decade. Nor will it require any sweeping changes. Kane Williamson’s New Zealand aren’t the ones to wane, for they possess the strength of their cultural heritage to see them through choppy waters.

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