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Australia vs New Zealand Test series: Bowled over by the green, green grass of home

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Cricketers at all levels like to think they can get a scoreboard advantage by verbal means even before they have to bowl or receive a single delivery.

Once upon a time, that tactic went by the title of sledging. It has at various times taken the epithet of mental disintegration (which implies there is a deal of integration to begin with) and more recently the gentle sobriquet of banter. It all sounds so playgroundish when you take the harsh language away.

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The mental battleground leading up to the first Test has been outstanding for its feint and counter feint, the bubble and the froth, the bluff and the absolute bullshit.

Both teams, mainly through their captains, have spread the fertiliser wide and far. Most of that fertiliser has apparently fallen on the 66' x 10' central section of Wellington's Basin Reserve.

A shortage of superphosphates has caused the cricket pitches of Australia and New Zealand to be as barren as the salted ruins of Carthage, conditions in which batsmen prosper and bowlers slave.

Climate change has dried up the hose pipes that feed our cricket arenas, grass cannot be grown in the middle of grounds and thus the balance of the willow and the leather has tipped inexorably towards the princes of the game. The game is poorer and indeed boring for that biased scale.


But now the cricket gods have decreed a rebalance. Someone, or more likely some committee sitting stoically around a mahogany boardroom table, have loosened the strings on the water licence, found the smelly bag of super in the dark recesses of the groundsmen's shed and raised the mower blades from shave to stubble.

Bowlers are going to sleep with all the anticipation of Christmas Day instead of the salt mines.

Well, maybe.

Steve Smith had, as they say in the classics, no hesitation in asking Brendon McCullum's team to bat after calling correctly on Friday morning. He could hardly suppress a grin. The pitch was GREEN. Yes, dear readers this is not a typo, GREEN and that GREEN was GRASS.

Moisture and grass have a deal of give that allows the seam of the ball to dig in and bite. That bite allows the ridge of the seam to deviate the ball and that means batsmen need patience and excellent defensive techniques to survive, let alone prosper.

It is harder to score and easier to get out, a concept foreign to most cricket these days. Bowlers still need the expertise to pitch at the right length; poor bowling on friendly pitches is punished just as much as that on flat tracks.

The propaganda from both teams had almost exclusively revolved around the state of the pitch and how each side would have an advantage because either their bowlers were better equipped to manipulate the moisture or their batsmen were better able to survive the opposition attack.

According to both teams, they were looking forward to playing on a pitch that was difficult to score runs on.

Balderdash. The batsmen were sending bribes to the groundsmen to kill the grass and break out the very heavy roller, and the bowlers were quietly rubbing their hands together with glee and mumbling about how it was time the protected species with the bats had to work for their runs.

A minor coterie of veteran Kiwi observers were blogging that the pitch would play much better than it looked. "Bah, humbug," retorted the chattering masses. "This match will go the same way as the Adelaide contest back in November, but without the pink missiles."

Josh Hazlewood duly charged in with a smile on his face expecting some serious sideways movement even with the flaccid Kookaburra.

Not much happened. There was a little swing and a little movement off the seam but nothing that an international opener would find unplayable.

The trouble is, given all this cricket being played in perfect batting conditions, there are very few international batsmen technically equipped to play a swinging or seaming ball.

The contemporary way of chasing the ball wide of off-stump so that the tennis racquet can propel the ball OVER the fieldsmen or driving through the covers with the feet in a neighbouring suburb brings inherent risks when the ball actually moves around.

If the ball is going straight through the air and off the wicket, then footwork and patience are of minor concern. The pitch could hardly be blamed for NZ losing five wickets in the first hour. Two, at a stretch, but this wasn't the minefield the players had talked up before the day.

Nathan Lyon and Australia celebrate a wicket.

Quicks? What quicks: Nathan Lyon celebrates one of his three scalps. Photo: AP

Nathan Lyon took three wickets and Australia finished the day three down and almost in front. Dave Warner chased a wide and Joe Burns missed a gimme on his hip from a poor delivery.

Smith ensured the spinners took four wickets on a first-day pitch supposedly made for the seamers.

The green quickly shaded toward grey as the day progressed and, by the time Australia took strike, was behaving like a chastened backbencher, although I must say the non-dismissal of Adam Voges from a non-no ball should mean Richard Illingworth becomes a non-Test umpire.

Given Mitchell Marsh's dismissal in the ODI (which was correctly given out), why the hell wasn't this reviewed and changed by the third umpire?

Maybe the sight of a green pitch and 13 victims falling in a day meant the batsmen would get some unwritten and unseen benefit of the doubt. What could the umpire possibly be thinking when he called a no ball that wasn't even close and then refused to change the call, which he was quite entitled to do?

There's an age-old saying in cricket. Bowlers use it daily and globally: it's a batsman's game.

Apparently even when the wickets are green, the propaganda is blue and their feet are behind the line.