Australia v New Zealand Tests
Khawaja, Warner put stamp on Gabba
Dominant Australians buoyed after new-look top order fires capped by brilliant centurions
Andrew Ramsey at the Gabba
5 November 2015, 07:00 PM AEST
If, as the accepted sporting truism tells us, practice makes perfect then New Zealand’s very tested Test bowling attack should be near flawless as the series against Australia heads into its second day.
As if scoffing at the pre-game hypothesising that dared suggest the current Black Caps would enter this three-match campaign an even money chance, perhaps slight favourites, the home team ended the first day in an unforeseen position of dominance at 2-389.
Not since Nasser Hussain famously offered his Ashes rival first use after winning the toss in 2002 – and the home team celebrated by roaring to 2-364 at stumps on the back of Matthew Hayden’s unbeaten 186 – has the first day of an Australia Test summer produced such a lopsided contest between bat and ball.
The re-cast top order that was identified as perhaps Australia’s most likely source of vulnerability in the new era of Steve Smith’s captaincy instead went from strength to strength underpinned by vice-captain David Warner’s 163.
WATCH: Highlights of Warner's 13 Test century
And in their returns to Test cricket after absences of varying lengths, Warner’s new opening partner Joe Burns (71 in an opening stand of 161) and Usman Khawaja’s breakthrough Test ton that will resume at 102no could scarcely have delivered greater reassurance.
So much so that Smith, his team’s best batsman and the player viewed as the one stable pillar in an under-baked top and middle order, wasn’t required in the middle until the day’s final hour during which time he helped himself to an unbeaten 41 from 54 balls.
Khawaja’s maiden Test ton as the evening storm clouds closed in added a feel-good footnote to the new chapter of Australia’s Test team evolution that seems set to contain more than its share of happy endings.
WATCH: Khawaja breaks through for maiden Test ton
The left-hander’s chanceless hundred off just 123 balls meant the new opening combination, the new No.3, the new skipper and his new deputy all finished the day with reason to celebrate.
With the promise of further bounty tomorrow.
And the Black Caps bowlers who hoped they had seen the last of the local back breaking, soul destroying flat pitches when they cut short their visit to Blacktown to better familiarise themselves with the Gabba might begin to fear these bare, lifeless roads are instead following them.
Apart from their day-night low-key tour opener played with a pink ball against a Prime Minister’s XI in Canberra, the NZ attack that was to yield the most decisive advantage in a bid to win their first series in Australia for 30 years now boasts a red-ball return of 5-1227 on this trip.
Smith and Khawaja celebrate a job well done after day one // Getty
From more than 300 overs across less than four days in the field, the Black Caps have captured – with their front-line bowlers boasting some unflattering numbers – seamers Tim Southee (1-67), Trent Boult (0-120), Doug Bracewell (1-171), Jimmy Neesham (1-127) and spinner Mark Craig (1-328).
Even part-time tweaker Kane Williamson has been forced to wheel down 26 overs (0-108), and as visiting captain Brendon McCullum would doubtless concede if you’re compelled to turn to your sixth-string bowler on day one of a series’ opening Test then all is not well.
Not that this campaign is decided by any stretch.
But what is clear after one day of a scheduled 15 is that if the ball does not swing – as it was reluctant to do for all but the first 15 minutes today – and there’s nothing on offer from the surface then the depth and diversity of the Black Caps attack will be tested.
And targeted, as Australia’s top three batsmen displayed with gleeful disdain at times today.
WATCH: Joe Burns hits third consecutive Test fifty
Having fired a verbal salvo at McCullum in the days prior to the Test, Warner lived the cliché of the ‘talking bat’ as well as the responsibilities that come with his new title of vice-captain by pacing his 224-ball innings exquisitely.
Watchful for the first half hour during which he found himself face down on the flat, true pitch after being spreadeagled by a pinpoint yorker from Boult, the 29-year-old opener then found his timing almost as soon as he’d regained his feet.
The turning point for Warner arrived when Southee and Boult were replaced in the steamy morning heat after six and five overs respectively, and out of the blue he aimed a textbook golf swing at one of Bracewell’s nagging seamers and pitched it over the sightscreen where it nestled on the covered seats.
WATCH: Warner launches monstrous six
By that stage the pair’s maiden first-wicket partnership had reached 84, and Warner’s half-century arrived in the following over.
Their 100 stand came on the stroke of lunch and was greeted by a handshake and a hug from the pair that seem destined to spend at least the current summer galvanising one of the Test game’s most important and enduring bonds.
And, if today’s first-up effort provides a yardstick, will remain for much longer.
Certainly they are already among esteemed company with their tally of 161 when Burns was dismissed for a Test-high score of 71 exceeding the maiden returns of Australia’s two most successful opening combinations.
Burns's wicket finally gave something for NZ to cheer // Getty
Matthew Hayden and Justin Langer put together 159 against England at The Oval in 2001 when their record-setting combination was born, while Mark Taylor and Michael Slater (who Hayden and Langer overtook as the nation’s best ever) began their partnership with 128 at Old Trafford in 1993.
Having endured an anxious 20-ball baptism as a Test opener before finding his first run – an emphatic square drive to the point boundary – Burn’s only other moment of concern in his 120-ball stay was an ill-judged single off the same bowler not long after.
Had McCullum’s throw after he swooped and gathered at short cover hit the bowler’s ends stumps then Burns’s Test comeback would have been needlessly terminated on four and the tourists would have pocketed that early breakthrough they craved, even if not from one of their bowlers.
WATCH: Burns has a narrow escape early on
Instead they had to wait a further 30 overs before Burns aimed a weary looking slash at a full, wider delivery from Southee just as an expectant Gabba home crowd was beginning to believe the summer might begin with a home-town century.
But where Burns left off, former New South Wales turned Queensland skipper Khawaja stepped in and made an even more emphatic statement in the pivotal No.3 batting berth that is now his for the securing.
So crisp and effortless was Khawaja’s timing from the time he arrived at the crease, there were occasions when he resembled the game’s most celebrated left-handers, the likes of Brian Lara, Kumar Sangakkara or even England’s maestro David Gower.
Never more so than when he danced down the pitch to meet Craig’s unthreatening off-spin and with a parabolic swing of the bat lifted him twice beyond the rope at deep extra cover.
Or the flawless cover drives that routinely pierced the innovative fields that McCullum employed from the day’s start and as it became increasingly clear it was to be batter error rather than bowler brilliance that was likely to lead to a breakthrough.
So it was with Warner, who has played a solitary competitive match following his left thumb fracture sustained in England last September and could be excused for the tired heave he produced at a ball from Bracewell that was there to be despatched but was instead plucked cleverly by a leaping Ross Taylor at slip.
In other conditions against a more menacing threat, coming to the wicket with 20 overs left in the day, the second new ball due and threatening clouds dulling the ambient light would have presented an unpalatable challenge for a new batsman.
But Smith arrived in a now trademark flurry of strokes as he clubbed anything loose as if affronted and the likelihood of him upping his assault tomorrow will do nothing to help the weary Black Caps bowlers sleep.
Australia: David Warner, Joe Burns, Usman Khawaja, Steve Smith (c), Adam Voges, Mitch Marsh, Peter Nevill (wk), Mitchell Johnson, Mitchell Starc, Josh Hazlewood, Nathan Lyon, Peter Siddle (12th).
New Zealand: Martin Guptill, Tom Latham, Kane Williamson, Ross Taylor, Brendon McCullum (c), Jimmy Neesham, BJ Watling (wk), Mark Craig, Doug Bracewell, Tim Southee, Trent Boult. Matt Henry (12th).
— Cricket Video (@CricketVideo) November 5, 2015