New Zealand v Australia, 1st Test, Wellington, 4th day February 15, 2016

Smith's team headed in 'right direction' with No. 1 on cards

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The new-look Australia seem to be headed back to old winning ways © Getty Images

Michael Clarke took on the Australian captaincy after the nadir of their 2010-11 Ashes defeat at home; it took him three years to lift his team back to No. 1 on the Test rankings. Even then, they only sat at the pinnacle for three months. Steven Smith assumed the leadership from Clarke after another failed Ashes campaign, but less than one year on, the No. 1 position is within touching distance. The challenge, should they get there, is to stay there.

Australia's innings victory over New Zealand at the Basin Reserve not only ensured they would retain the Trans-Tasman Trophy, it placed them tantalisingly close to the top Test ranking. All they must do is avoid defeat in the second Test in Christchurch; victory or a draw will push them above India and into No. 1, while a loss would send them down to No. 3. It is a remarkable effort for a group that has lost six experienced men to retirement in the past year.

"We've got a pretty new side and guys are gelling well together," Smith said after taking a 1-0 series lead in Wellington. "I think we've played very good Test cricket over the last couple of months, obviously we had those series at home and to start this series the way we have it has been really satisfying. There's still a lot of improvement left in us but I think we are going in the right direction."

Australia's success during their home summer was emphatic, but was tempered by the flatness of the pitches and the quality of the opposition, with New Zealand taking until the third Test to find their best and West Indies a class below for their whole campaign. The challenge for Smith was to find similar results away from home and their comprehensive win in Wellington was a good start; a tour of Sri Lanka later this year is their next job after New Zealand.

"When you are No. 1 in the world, every team you play against is out for you, they are hunting for you," Smith said. "So it takes a lot of hard work to stay at No. 1. So if it does happen, if we get to No. 1 in this series, there is still a lot of hard work; we've got a pretty tough series in a couple of months' time in Sri Lanka. So, lots of hard work still in us after this series."

Not that getting over New Zealand in Christchurch will be anything other than hard work, either. The New Zealanders will have the added emotion of farewelling their retiring captain Brendon McCullum, and not every part of Australia's game functioned perfectly in Wellington. Jackson Bird struggled in his first Test for two and a half years, and Peter Siddle is no certainty to play the second Test after battling a back problem.

"He's had a bit of spasm through his back," Smith said. "Today I was able to keep him on ice. He wasn't needed in the end. We'll wait and see how he pulls up over the next couple of days to see whether he'll be fit for that second Test match."

Siddle's work in the first innings in Wellington was of critical importance for Australia - he built the pressure that Bird was unable to - which helped Josh Hazlewood gain results at the other end. The uncapped Chadd Sayers is one option should Siddle be unavailable in Christchurch but the Australians would likely prefer to call on James Pattinson; the selectors ruled Pattinson out of Wellington as they were unsure his fitness would stand up to five days.

"He has done quite a lot of bowling this week," Smith said of Pattinson. "He has had a few sessions. I saw him bowling this morning actually and it looked like they were coming out really nicely and quite fast. I think he's tracking pretty well to be fit for the second Test match."

What is certain is that in Christchurch, New Zealand will need to show a little more patience with their batting, after falling over for 183 in the first innings having been sent in at the Basin Reserve. Although the conditions were helpful to Australia's fast men on the first day, New Zealand's batsmen went hard at the ball on too many occasions and did not give themselves the best chance of remaining there until the pitch flattened out.

"Being 50 for 5 on the first morning, when you're presented with conditions like that, you need a little bit of luck," McCullum said. "I thought in the end 180 wasn't too bad but the wicket dried out a little bit quicker than we were hoping for. In hindsight, if we could have batted just a bit longer, if we could have got 250... then we would have been in the game.

"Conditions were difficult on that first morning. Ideally it would have done as much as what it did for a bit longer, but that wasn't the case. We toiled pretty hard with the ball in hand. A couple of things could have gone our way but they didn't and from that point we struggled to get any control of the game with ball in hand.

"Credit to Voges and Khawaja. I thought their innings, they were outstanding. Adam, the strength of character to overcome that non-dismissal that night then to go on to post a sizable total shows not only how good a player he is but how strong a player he is as well. There are certainly things for us to work on."

Brydon Coverdale is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. @brydoncoverdale

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Uncapped on February 17, 2016, 1:33 GMT

    Some don't like the rankings system but I think it is fair. You have to take it for what it is. It isn't necessarily saying the no.1 ranked team is the best team right at the minute... It is a fair measure of home and away performance against each opposition over the last 4 years. Kind of like the top ranked team in football might not be favourite if the second team has won the last 10 games in a row. Anyway I can see positive times ahead for the Aussies- hopefully we can keep most of our better players on the field!

  • Havealendofitind on February 16, 2016, 15:24 GMT

    Green mamba and I'd be tempted to bring S.Marsh into the line up in replace of Siddle as the Australians will only need 3 quicks plus Lyon. M.Marsh can move down to number 8.

  • Jayzuz on February 16, 2016, 13:30 GMT

    I expect a green mamba for Christchurch. It's two-barrel Russian roulette. NZ have nothing to lose and everything to gain, and producing a flat(ish) track offers them northing. This means winning the toss is again going to be the key moment in the game. Unfortunately I have a feeling Australia's good fortune is about to run out.

  • izzidole on February 16, 2016, 12:01 GMT

    It is a commendable performance by captain of the Australian cricket team Steve Smith to defeat the Kiwis in the first test in only his first overseas tour as captain. He is just 26 years old and took over the captaincy only six months ago after the retirement of former captain Michael Clarke and almost half the side. He has moulded the team into a winning combination despite losing several players due to injury the whole season. He started his test career against England in 2011 as an allrounder who bowled leg breaks and could chip in with some runs in the middle order but has now blossomed to be one of the leading batsmen in world cricket today who hardly bowls . He deputised for former captain Michael Clarke due to his injury in the four match cricket series against India last year and scored three consecutive centuries to help win the series 2-0.

  • SameOld on February 16, 2016, 5:43 GMT

    Well deserved if they manage it, I'd say. Sure the ranking system is not great, but Australia and England are the best sides in the world right now.

  • Sanj747 on February 16, 2016, 2:02 GMT

    @PRASPUNTER well said mate. You are firing on all cylinders. @COOLJACK_143 I love your optimism about India being number 1 for a while. Just wait till they tour SA, Eng and Aus. Ask Duncan Fletcher he will tell you the results of the last few series. @DUNGER.BOB with Smith and some stability we will see rewards soon. I can't wait to see Khawaja bat in SL later this year. As you say if we are good enough we will win.

  • baggygreenmania on February 16, 2016, 1:02 GMT

    "Siddle built pressure which helped Josh Hazlewood gain results at the other end" Steady on Brydon. Yes Sidds was good but Josh was building his own pressure. He is a class act in the making. Able to exploit conditions which suit and find ways to break thru in conditions that do not suit. Both seamers built enormous pressure with which the Black Caps could not cope.

  • baggygreenmania on February 16, 2016, 0:49 GMT

    It must be remembered that this current Baggy Green side is relatively green as a test unit...both batting and bowling. Seven players have just 84 tests between them. So to be one win away from the world crown is a meritorious effort.

  • hycIass on February 15, 2016, 23:50 GMT

    They have been very impressive Australia, and well ahead of 'schedule'.The first sign was them getting it done in Adelaide when they looked like they would crumble after their batting pillars in Warner/Smith fell early. I think that result instilled a bit of belief.This performance deserves the highest merit. The carriers of 'victim cards' will point to the toss and the Voges decision but the reality is Austral.ia pounded a very able NZ side in all departments. The rearguard by Smith/Khawaja in the first innings was very impressive and how well the batting played in a discreet and guarded manner in what was still challenging conditions was a sign of growing maturity. Khawaja in particular will be the pillar of our batting going forward. The bowling was so disciplined and cohesive as a unit. Most will attribute Guptill/Latham's dismissals to dumb shots, but it was caused by the Aussie pressure clouding their judgement.

  • Cantbowlcantbat on February 15, 2016, 23:21 GMT

    No. 1 spot is a bit meaningless these days. No longer is the No. 1 team clearly the best like WI and AU were for so many years. Still, I prefer it with any number of teams within reach. Every test series becomes important- I just wish away wins were given more ranking points as this would sort the wheat from the chaff.

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