After another supremely dominant display from Australia, there can be no doubt of who will come out on top of this Boxing Day Test match.
The only question now is when.
Australia’s battery of fast bowlers, led by the peerless Pat Cummins, relentlessly tore through the Kiwis with minimal fuss with a wonderful bowling display.
Opting not to enforce the follow-on after earning a lead of 319 may bewilder some, but with the third and final Test in Sydney fast approaching, it was prudent to prolong the New Zealanders’ stint in the field while simultaneously allowing Australia’s own quick bowlers the chance to grab some rest.
A just reward for the perfect implementation of their game plan.
However, the brilliant Australian display was assisted by some highly questionable batting tactics from the visitors.
This most problematic of pitches has not been easy to drive on all match — so said plenty of players in their individual innings post-mortems.
So when the Australians dangled the carrot of runs down the ground to tempt the New Zealand batsman into pushing forwards and driving, it should have been easy to ignore.
Yet, like those weak-willed amongst us who dive into the Christmas chocolates every time we pass the oh-so inviting bowl, the Kiwis appeared powerless to resist taking the bait.
The model of how to bat in this Test had been clearly laid out by Travis Head after his grafting century on day two, the South Australian saying that it was “very difficult to drive” and that his “very refined blueprint” involved being tight in defence and waiting for a cut shot or a ball to stay onto his pads.
Those warnings were perhaps too explicit because they were clearly ignored by the majority of New Zealand’s batsmen.
Part of the issue the Kiwis faced was that there was no let-up, with every ball from Australia’s trio of quicks probing at the tourists’ defences.
Tim Paine was also afforded the luxury of a spin bowler in Nathan Lyon who could hold up an end, allowing for easy rotation between Mitchel Starc, James Pattinson and Cummins.
Tom Latham was a solitary beacon of resistance for the Kiwis before his 144-ball stay came to an abrupt end much in the same manner of his predecessors, prodding away from his body on the front foot to a Cummins delivery that hurtled down the corridor of uncertainty outside off stump.
Tom Latham’s 144-ball 50 was the only meaningful innings for New Zealand. (AP: Andy Brownbill)
New Zealand found itself pressed so far on its metaphorical back foot that it appeared it forgot it was permitted to play off of it — handing Australia easy wickets by repeatedly pushing forwards and snicking to the crouching contingent of men behind.
The day really belonged to Cummins, who was on the money from the very first ball of the day, beating the outside edge of the tourist’s bats with such alacrity one felt compelled to check that they were of regulation width.
Last year, Cummins was close to being the sole beacon of light as he valiantly compiled 63 runs in the fourth innings of a losing cause, as well as taking nine wickets in the match, including 6-27 to run through India in the third innings.
This year he shone just as brightly in what looks like a victorious cause.
The newly-minted IPL millionaire looked every cent of his $3.17 million price tag by claiming his fifth five-wicket haul in Tests with a textbook display of controlled fast bowling.
Cummins’s attacking line — as well as that of the effervescent Pattinson — also served to highlight the folly of New Zealand’s two days of defensive bowling.
The Kiwis hoped to test the Australians’ patience by not bowling to take wickets. Australia simply went for the jugular.
Ironically, both approaches worked. The Kiwis did not take wickets, and the Australians succeeded in killing off the New Zealanders aspirations for this Test.
After avoiding the ignominy of being asked to follow on and facing an innings defeat, the fact that New Zealand persisted with a defensive mindset with the ball will only add to the disappointment felt by the hordes of travelling supporters, who helped swell the attendance to a hugely impressive 183,201 with another bumper crowd of 43,052 on day three.
Paine not happy with DRS
Aside from everything going perfectly to plan in the context of the game, there were still moments of discontent that rippled through the Australian side on day three.
After Tim Paine expressed his frustration with the Decision Review System on Friday, he is unlikely to have had his mind changed by what he saw on Saturday.
Paine told ABC Grandstand: “I’ve got a few doubts [about DRS], no doubt about that. I won’t go into it too much because I will get in trouble.
ABC Grandstand tweet: After some curious reviews today, @CricketAus skipper Tim Paine joined @AlisterNicho on Grandstand at Stumps to discuss the DRS
“I’m just seeing time and time again, what I see to the naked eye or watching it on television in real-time, and then when it comes up it is sometimes a little bit off the mark.”
Those doubts would have been amplified when Mitch Santner was given not out by the third umpire Aleem Daar despite the ball clearly appearing to hit the wrist-band of his glove.
It should have been out. That it wasn’t was clearly an issue for Paine, who spoke to on-field umpire Marais Erasmus perhaps to seek clarification on the decision.
ICC rules state that “an umpire’s decision, once made, is final” and a player can be sanctioned for showing dissent at an umpire’s decision by:
- excessive, obvious disappointment with an umpire’s decision.
- arguing or entering into a prolonged discussion with the umpire about his/her decision.
Paine was likely just seeking clarification on how the decision was reached, but that, coupled with Steve Smith’s unpunished petulance of day one, could be seen as dangerous territory for a team that has been at great pains to remodel its on-field image.
Performance-wise, things on the field could not be better. Justin Langer would want to ensure things stayed that was from an attitude perspective as well.