Australia v New Zealand, 1st Test, Brisbane, 2nd day November 21, 2008

Liven it up

For two days the batsmen have made a pitch that has been testing look like a disaster area by playing, missing, edging and complaining

Straight bats are much better in these circumstances than horizontal ones on lively surfaces © Getty Images

Modern batsmen have forgotten how to play on lively surfaces. Perhaps this generation never learned, or lost the ability during years of pampering on flat surfaces that inflated their averages and belief. At least it gives them something to blame for the failures in this fascinating Test.

For two days they have made a pitch that has been testing look like a disaster area by playing, missing, edging and complaining. Twenty-six wickets have fallen in two days, including 16 on the second day, the most in a Gabba Test since the Ashes Test of 1950-51. There is no desperation to call for the pitch inspector for this is a strip that has coped well with a wet preparation and made an entertaining contest.

If the finance requirements and television stations didn't prefer that matches always entered a fifth day, there would be more cause to create pitches that challenged the game's most protected species. Australia and New Zealand have returned from series in India and Bangladesh over the past month and finally - but briefly - the bowlers have been allowed to upset the game's order by embarrassing the batsmen instead of the other way around. It's a shame it can't last, but the final Test of the series is in Adelaide next week.

New Zealand's inexperienced batsmen mirrored the rashness of Australia's by flaying to 156, and by stumps the home side had a lead of 189. Throughout the second day there were big drives that resulted in bowleds (Jamie How and Grant Elliott), nibbles that went to the slips (Aaron Redmond and Matthew Hayden), a shuffle that ended in a lbw (Ross Taylor) and a horribly misjudged pull from Ricky Ponting, who glared at the pitch before he left. Straight bats are much better in these circumstances than horizontal ones, something Andrew Symonds didn't remember 28 minutes before stumps when he edged a swipe off Chris Martin.

On a day of carelessness the most worrying moment came with the casual run-out of Michael Clarke, who didn't bother to reach for the crease and was beaten by a smart throw from Redmond at backward square leg. It was a small moment, but it summed up the mood of both line-ups. With the going tough, the batsmen appeared to give up. Stupid pitch. Great match.

Daniel Flynn, the No. 6, looks like the kind of batsman who would be happy to defend through to Christmas, which was exactly what New Zealand needed. Unfortunately for Flynn, he was unbeaten on 39 when his team-mates were dismissed in 240 minutes.

Only four batsmen reached double figures before Australia tried their best to match the effort, reaching 6 for 131 at stumps. The opener Simon Katich lifted himself above the damage with an unbeaten 67 that was the brightest and most composed innings of the match. He will be vital to Australia's target setting on Saturday.

While the rest of the batsmen grumbled at their perceived misfortune - and ignored the need for grit to replace glitz - the supporters at the Gabba were cheering. After sitting in the stands at times during the first two days it quickly becomes clear what the fans want from the players: boundaries, bouncers and wickets. The people who pay to watch are capable judges of excitement and seeing them in a hurry to stand when an umpire raises his finger is moving, literally and emotionally.

These types of wickets are good for everybody but the batsmen. In the commentary boxes there is a gentle debate about whether this pitch should be called a greentop. To anyone who has played club cricket, or Tests before the 1990s, it looks like a wicket that would test your technique but is far from impossible. To modern batsmen, the ones who have to go to work on it, the strip carries more demons than an episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. For the rest of the summer they will have the advantage, so it is fun watching them struggle for a few days.

Peter English is the Australasia editor of Cricinfo