At a period piece of a ground, in by modern standards baroque conditions, a classic Test match promised. In the one-size-fits-all era, you don't see many grounds like this any more, and Australians don't see much cricket like this. For them, the Basin Reserve was not so much home away from home as foreign land so close to home. It was all the more to their credit that they took the advantage randomly conferred by the toss and fashioned it into what is already a match-winning position. The luck they made for themselves held to the last over, when Adam Voges was bowled by a delivery wrongly called as a no-ball. From New Zealand's standpoint, it is a truly bad day when you are penalised for not crossing the line.
More than ever, cricket is about adaptation, between countries, between forms of the game, between pitches and balls, from match to match, even innings to innings. Most players in this match have in the last six weeks played all three versions. It can't be easy, bowlers constantly having to modify their lengths, batsmen their instincts, both their mindsets, training habits and then breaking and remaking them. It would always be Australia's challenge here. But New Zealand, having made Australia's bed, first had to lie in it themselves. All out 183 tells the story of their recoil.
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Australia ripped through the New Zealand batting line up before the Kiwis fought back as the tourists hit the crease in the first test.
Though short, it was an innings in three parts. From ball one, there was a little movement, always more dangerous to batsmen than a lot. Mostly, the ball hit the middle of the bat, and made a booming sound as it did. Only two plays-and-misses come readily to mind. But the off-centre hits all were edges, and all were caught, most memorably Peter Nevill's one-glover from Kane Williamson's inside edge, the sort usually seen only in backyard swimming pools. Runs and wickets flowed apace, and after an hour, the Kiwis were 5-51.
If there was a common factor in the wickets, it was that batsmen went hard at the ball. It was as if they were still shaking white-ball cricket out of their systems. But credit must accrue to seamers Josh Hazlewood and Peter Siddle for pitching up and straight and accurately. Their discipline was deceptive. Of New Zealand's 25 boundaries, only four were scored behind square. Jackson Bird, on his first day of Test cricket for three years, acted as a kind of unwitting and unhappy control, showing how easily it might all have gone wrong. His 10 fruitless over cost 52.
Force hadn't worked for the Kiwis, so Corey Anderson and B.J. Watling tried patience instead. For an hour and more, they left the ball and forgot about the runs. Overs passed without incident. In footy, it would be called "tempo". Here was the regrouping that 50-over cricket rarely permits and 20-over cricket never. Both sides waited, as if trying to smoke one another out. The spectacle was in the tussle, and no less vivid for it if you had a good imagination. Here was adaptation to circumstances, treating the itch without scratching it. Anderson, for context's sake, owns the second-fastest hundred in one-day cricket.
But deep within the batsmen, traces of white-ball cricket still coursed. The eventual dismissals of Watling and Anderson were of a kind, each hitting a four then perishing next ball. This precipitated some good old-fashioned all-or-nothing walloping for the last three wickets, which is not to sneeze at it; Mark Craig and confreres almost doubled New Zealand's score. The finish was a T20 flourish, Usman Khawaja juggling the ball over the boundary rope and back into the field of play to catch Trent Boult.
Both Australia's openers were gone before Khawaja and Steve Smith at last were able to apply the Goldilocks principle, find the pace and rhythm just right for this pitch. For this, they were perfectly adapted, Khawaja because he plays so late it looks as though he is using a cushion rather than a bat, and Smith because he can play in all the veins and moods. You might call their way non-adversarial, not so much bat versus ball as bat works with ball, and the score grew as naturally and unhurriedly as a vine.
New Zealand tried bowling wide of off-stump to both, but all knew that the mountain would not come to Mohammed. Duly, the bowlers straightened and the batsmen flourished. Still, there were moments of teetering. Smith and Khawaja stroked five fours in eight balls, then from the ninth Smith was dropped in slips. At length, Smith's hands ran away from him and he crashed at Mark Craig a return catch so low Smith and the umpires all thought it best to seek a second opinion. The catch was clean.
But by now the pitch was in repose, and the ball old, and the day fated, as Test days often are. In the last over, Doug Bracewell bowled Adam Voges, only to be thwarted by umpire Richard Illingworth's call of no-ball. As much as could be said from a camera angle pointing into the sun, the umpire was wrong, but the Kiwis did not know it and had no recourse anyway. Again, the DRS protocols were revealed to be flawed. If this day proved anything, it was that man can adapt, machines and management can't.