Domain Test Series v New Zealand
Australia romp to trans-Tasman series victory
James Pattinson and Nathan Lyon seal a a 247-run win for Australia inside four days despite a fighting century from Tom Blundell
Andrew Ramsey at the MCG
29 December 2019, 11:59 PM AEST
For a while on a sunny Sunday afternoon, it seemed that New Zealand's unlikely opener Tom Blundell might take Australia into the fifth day of the second Domain Test even if his team carried no realistic chance of chasing their distant victory target.
However, despite an heroic century that earned the respect of his rivals and doubtless brought some blushes from his better-known teammates, New Zealand ultimately crashed to a 247-run defeat to hand Australia an unassailable lead in the three-game Domain Series.
It was another solid bowling effort by the home team on an MCG pitch that had flattened out and made fourth-day batting conditions the best of the game, but the day belonged to Blundell even though he ended up on the emphatically losing team.
Blundell, the reserve keeper in just his third Test match and having never previously opened the batting in his six-year first-class career, played a lone hand to post the first individual century in what has proved a dire batting campaign for the Black Caps.
Blundell, who had shaved off his lush beard before play began this morning, would have been out lbw for nought had Australia opted to review an unsuccessful appeal in the innings' first over, and thought they finally had the right-hander for 90 shortly after tea.
But umpire Nigel Llong's ruling was overturned when the ball from James Pattinson was shown to be clearing the stumps by some distance.
Having spent more than half an hour in the 90s, Blundell narrowly avoided being caught at leg slip when he squeezed a catch from his glove off Nathan Lyon that ballooned over the head of the fielder waiting behind the batter.
His moment of glory arrived in soft, late afternoon sunlight when he pushed a single through mid-wicket and stood with arms raised as the throng of Kiwi fans found full voice in the Southern Stand, and a number of them tore off their shirts in celebration.
It was a remarkable achievement for the 29-year-old, who had not batted higher than number five in almost 100 prior first-class innings but had shown an ability to handle fast bowling during stints at the top of the order in T20 cricket.
However, there is a significant difference in attacking the new white ball in NZ's domestic Super Smash competition and combatting Pat Cummins, Mitchell Starc and Pattinson armed with a shiny red one in the cauldron of a Boxing Day Test.
Blundell not only weathered those storms as well as the spin of Lyon, but showed his more experienced, credentialled teammates how to play against the world's foremost fast bowling line-up.
After Pattinson tore through the Black Caps top-order with three crucial wickets in his first two overs, it was Lyon who posed the perennial threat as Blundell found allies in BJ Watling (22 from 63 balls) and Mitchell Santner (27 off 46).
And it was Lyon's low catch to remove Blundell for 121 – after he had claimed 4-81 from his 23 overs – that ended the Test at 5.43pm on day four, and ensured Australia will retain the Trans-Tasman Trophy ahead of the final Domain Series Test starting at the SCG on January 3.
For the fourth time in as many Tests this summer, against Pakistan and New Zealand, the dominant home team has achieved victory with at least a day to spare.
As expected, Australia had closed their innings after 40 minutes of batting on the fourth morning, when first innings century maker Travis Head was bowled around his legs by NZ's best – occasionally lone – bowler, Neil Wagner.
Rather than risk injury to his bowlers on a pitch where Black Caps seamer Trent Boult had sustained a fractured hand when struck while batting on Saturday, Tim Paine opted to let loose his quicks with the visitors facing a fanciful 488 runs to win.
Or needing to bat out more than five and a half sessions to force a draw.
Given their struggling batters had managed fewer runs (485) in their three preceding Test innings against Australia combined, and had survived on average less than 60 overs in each of those three sub-par efforts, NZ's only realistic hope was weather intervention.
However, Melbourne's forecast revealed no trace of imminent rain and while a popular music festival had been cancelled for fear of the extreme heat expected on Monday, that measure has yet to be employed in international cricket.
Pattinson then rendered the prospect of play on day five largely academic by blasting out three of the Black Caps top-four ranked batters in the space of nine deliveries at a personal cost of two runs.
The first to feel the blowtorch was opener Tom Latham (16th on the ICC's ladder of all current Test players) showed he had learned nothing from the manner in which so many of his teammates had succumbed on an MCG pitch rarely conducive to driving, by aiming his flashing bat at a full ball angled across him.
To the surprise of nobody, the left-hander managed only to edge a low chance that Paine accepted neatly by diving in front of first slip to complete his sixth catch of the Test.
In addition to his flawless catching and eye-catching innings of 79 in his sole outing with the bat, Paine's captaincy has been both effective and intuitive and he pulled a master stroke in the immediate aftermath of Latham's dismissal.
Despite Pattinson gaining the breakthrough that had frustratingly eluded Australia as NZ fashioned their most productive opening partnership of the Domain Series to date (32), he was taken out of the attack after a solitary over and re-deployed from the opposite (Southern Stand) end.
It was bowlers operating from that end that caught the eye of Steve Smith on Boxing Day, who claimed there was a "patch" around 4-5 metres from the batting crease that caused the ball to fly at a demonstrably steeper angle.
If that remained the case, it wasn't the problem that brought about the downfall of NZ skipper Kane Williamson (ranked third-best Test batter in the world) who was adjudged lbw to Patinson's second delivery that thudded into his front pad.
Despite the delivery spearing down the leg side, umpire Marais Erasmus deemed it to be hitting leg stump and when Williamson asked for that decision to be reviewed, the technology that has become a sub-plot during this match confirmed the on-field call was correct.
Albeit by a couple of layers of lacquer on the ball's exterior.
The phantom stretch of turf might have been responsible for the demise of Ross Taylor (global ranking 10) although it's slightly more probable the veteran succumbed to a glaring lapse of judgement.
With NZ teetering at 2-35 and the lunch break an over away, Taylor pinned back his ears when he saw Pattinson drop short and unfurled his favoured cut shot even though the ball had bounced above shoulder height.
In straining to make contact, Taylor succeeded only in making contact with the bottom-edge of his not-quite-horizontal bat from which the ball rebounded flush on to middle stump.
It was undoubtedly a moment of fortune the Australians welcomed with glee, but it was counter-balanced by some chance moments that fell the tourists' way, largely at the expense of left-arm speedster Mitchell Starc.
From the third ball of the innings, before Blundell had scored a run, Starc slammed a full, in-swinging delivery into the opener's pad in front of leg stump but, after a conference with his captain, umpire Nigel Long's not-out verdict remained unchallenged.
The DRS technology in which Paine's faith has become so shaken later revealed the ball to be hitting the top of Blundell's leg stump, and the missed opportunity gnawed at the home team with every ensuing over that Blundell survived.
When Starc returned after lunch and routinely reached bowling speeds in excess of 145kph, he fired a delivery through left-hander Henry Nicholls (ranking 13) that seemed to clip the top of leg stump as well as the bat's inside edge but the bail remained resolutely intact.
Starc's disbelief was compounded by the sight of the ball crashing into the boundary rope at fine leg, and heightened further by umpire Llong's call of no-ball after the fast bowler markedly over-stepped.
As a result, Nicholls would have been reprieved even if the bail had toppled and it seemed that one of the Black Caps top-order might produce a score of substance in the face of abject adversity.
However, no sooner had Nicholls seized the initiative and clubbed Nathan Lyon for six down the ground, he was tricked into lunging forward at a sharply spinning ball next delivery and Paine completed a slick stumping.
At that point, the Black Caps' best four batters were back in the hutch 399 runs shy of their notional victory target, and only their newly shaved reserve keeper standing in the path of another thumping Australia win.
Australia XI: David Warner, Joe Burns, Marnus Labuschagne, Steve Smith, Matthew Wade, Travis Head, Tim Paine (c, wk), Pat Cummins, James Pattinson, Mitchell Starc, Nathan Lyon
New Zealand XI: Tom Latham, Tom Blundell, Kane Williamson (c), Ross Taylor, Henry Nicholls, BJ Watling (wk), Colin de Grandhomme, Mitchell Santner, Tim Southee, Neil Wagner, Trent Boult.
Domain Test Series v New Zealand
Australia squad: David Warner, Joe Burns, Marnus Labuschagne, Steve Smith, Matthew Wade, Travis Head, Tim Paine (c, wk), Pat Cummins, Mitch Starc, Nathan Lyon, James Pattinson, Michael Neser, Mitchell Swepson
New Zealand: Todd Astle, Tom Blundell, Trent Boult, Colin de Grandhomme, Matt Henry, Kyle Jamieson, Tom Latham, Henry Nicholls, Jeet Raval, Mitchell Santner, Tim Southee, Ross Taylor, BJ Watling, Neil Wagner, Kane Williamson (c)
First Test: Australia won by 296 runs in Perth
Second Test: Australia won by 247 runs in Melbourne
Third Test: January 3-7, SCG (Seven, Fox & Kayo)