Australia in control after dominant day

12 February 2016

Steve Smith falls for 71 late in the day, but tourists well on top after routing NZ for 183

New Zealand v Australia Tests, First Test


For all the pre-match talk about the seamless ease with which both teams would make the transition to Test cricket, the first day of the Trans-Tasman Trophy series unfurled in a distinctly similar manner to the ODI campaign that preceded it.

Quick Single: Voges survives controversial no-ball ruling

After Steve Smith subscribed to his rival skipper Brendon McCullum's view that the well-grassed strip at the Basin Reserve screamed 'bowl first', the Black Caps fell marginally short of their 50 overs with all 10 wickets falling to catches as they were rolled over for 183.

Tea wrap: Lyon, Aussie fielders complete NZ rout

A lead that Australia had whittled by 147 for the loss of three wickets by stumps.

But prevailing wisdom that the home side's total was decidedly sub-par, even on a pitch that had bowlers on a high and slips fielders on high alert, was tempered when Australia’s openers both fell to catches behind the wicket in the first three overs of the tourists’ innings.

It was only another example of sublime batsmanship from Usman Khawaja, who forged an alliance with Smith that yielded the day’s only partnership to exceed 50, that returned the two-match series opener to a semblance of the Test game.

Watch: Khawaja, Smith punish NZ bowlers

Even if Khawaja and Smith did rattle along at a white-ball rate of almost a run per ball as the sting of the uninterrupted Wellington sun settled the playing surface that had proved so problematic for batters in the first two sessions.

Which is precisely how learned folk expected the pitch to play.

The surprise element of the series’ opening day was how smoothly Australia’s bowlers slipped into Test mode, and how unfamiliar the home conditions seemed to the Black Caps’ batters who failed to heed the Australians’ mantra of "play the ball late … and under your eyes".

Indeed, there were times during the first hour when New Zealand crashed to 5-51 - courtesy of a series of self-inflicted wounds – that it seemed it was the Black Caps rather than their foes who boasted an XI that had not before played Test cricket in New Zealand conditions.

While opener Tom Latham was undone by an immaculate delivery from Josh Hazlewood, those who followed him in quick succession back to the dressing room – with scores ranging from Martin Guptill’s 18 to McCullum’s duck – had cause to rue their shot selection.

Watch: Hazlewood - and DRS - does for Latham

The Australian bowlers had clearly learned a lesson from their Ashes defeat when, too often in conditions that were similarly skewed in favour of the ball, they pushed relentlessly for those 'miracle deliveries' rather than allowing the pitch and the overhead cloud to do their work for them.

Today, Hazlewood and Peter Siddle landed the ball almost unerringly on a length that compelled batsmen to play and the mat of grass on the pitch helped it deviate just enough to grab the edge.

And perhaps due to the intensive practice that Darren Lehmann and his fielding coach Greg Blewett subjected the team to in the days leading into the Test, a by-product of the countless chances squandered during the previous week's ODIs, those edged were in turn grabbed by Australia’s fielders.

Lunch wrap: Australia grab five early wickets

None better than the one-handed pluck that ‘keeper Peter Nevill pouched to claim the valued wicket of Kane Williamson when the Black Caps’ best batsman pushed hard at Siddle’s second delivery – having dismissed his first to the boundary – and the ball deviated significantly off the inside edge.

In flinging out his left hand despite being wrong-footed by the ball's unlikely change of trajectory, Nevill indelibly underscored the selectors’ decision to include him for ICC World T20 tournament next month even though he is yet to play limited-overs cricket for his country.

That call made purely on the basis that he is the best wicketkeeper in Australia.

Watch: Nevill grabs a stunning one-handed grab

After Australia’s seamers had ripped open the Black Caps top-order, Nathan Lyon enjoyed the bounce and turn the grassed strip produced to claim the final three wickets.

Although the fact all three – unlike their top-order colleagues – fell to catches taken in front of the wicket from attacking strokes that found considerably more bat than the earlier edges suggested it was Lyon’s flight into the unusually gentle Wellington breeze that proved most potent.

The clatter of wickets that saw NZ post their lowest first innings total for almost three years looked likely to continue into the final session when Joe Burns and David Warner were picked up in Tim Southee’s first over and a half.

Watch: Khawaja brilliance ends Boult cameo

Particularly in light of the ill-advised cut shot that Warner aimed at a wide delivery as Southee slowly found his range after a recent absence from cricket due to a foot injury, that was clearly at odds with his team's 'soft hands' policy.

And his obvious irritation at the stroke as he left the field showed that he was immediately filthy with himself.

But Smith and Khawaja then fashioned the day’s most productive and influential partnership, guiding Australia to within 52 runs of parity on the first innings before Smith – within sight of the century he was willing himself towards - chipped a sharp return catch to Mark Craig.

It came 53 runs after Craig had turfed a comparatively straightforward slips catch off Smith from the bowling of Doug Bracewell, an error that threatened to have a profound effect on the day and the Test overall.

There were other instances when luck did not flow the Black Caps’ way, most notably the line-ball no-ball call that deprived Bracewell the wicket of Adam Voges in the day’s final over when the batsman shouldered arms and was clean bowled.

No sooner had the Black Caps began to celebrate than they noticed umpire Richard Illingworth’s right arm extended to signal an unfair delivery, but subsequent television replays indicated that it was a legitimate ball with part of Bracewell’s heel behind the front line.

It prompted a discussion between McCullum and Illingworth as the teams left the field, but unlike last Monday’s umpiring controversy in Hamilton the technology did not come to the Black Caps’ rescue.

There was also the single delivery from which Khawaja could feasibly have been dismissed in three different ways but from which he ultimately profited by four runs.

WATCH: Voges survives 'horrific' no ball call

Making a pre-meditated charge at Craig when on 37, for one of the few times in recent memory Khawaja was beaten by the bowler and was well out of his crease when the inside edge he produced flew past ‘keeper B J Watling and to the boundary rope behind him.

Unlike Nevill earlier in the day against NZ’s pivotal number three, Watling had no chance to react to the change in ball’s direction which meant the catch and the stumping went begging as the ball whizzed perilously past the batsman’s leg stump.

By day’s end Khawaja had progressed to a measured, otherwise meticulous 57no to maintain a remarkable run of form that has netted him five scores of 50-plus (including three centuries) from his past six Test innings.

With the current one set to resume at Basin Reserve tomorrow morning.

Watch: Craig has a stroke of good fortune

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