Ponting tells New Zealand how to improve
Disappointing though the 2-0 result was for New Zealand, it wasn't a shock. They have not beaten Australia in a Test for 17 years and with a developing side, the chances of that changing on this tour were slim. The Trans-Tasman Trophy remains in Australian hands, as it has since 1987, and although there is no easy way for New Zealand to change that, Ricky Ponting had one idea when asked how his opponents could improve.
"Ask Bond to come back and play," Ponting said of the strike weapon who retired from Tests in December. "That would be a good start. They lack some pace I guess. We're lucky at the moment. We've got three guys who can all touch that high 140s barrier and Mitch Johnson is over that. Most teams around the world have at least one of those guys who can do that.
"They're generally the guys you go back to when you need to strike. With New Zealand probably a lot of that striking comes back to Dan [Vettori]. Dan has to be the guy to put his hand up to do a lot of that strike-bowling as well as try to keep it pretty tight."
There's no denying that New Zealand had bowling problems over the past fortnight. But as much as they might wish Shane Bond was sporting a black cap instead of the gold and purple of Kolkata Knight Riders, or that Iain O'Brien was at home and still playing instead of living in England as a county professional at Middlesex, the reality is they have limited resources with which to work.
Only once in the two Tests did they dismiss Australia, and the three leading wicket takers for the series were Ponting's fast men. Of New Zealand's seamers, Chris Martin and Daryl Tuffey grabbed one victim between them, Brent Arnel made a promising start without turning matches, and Tim Southee's six wickets in Hamilton was the most encouraging performance.
"Southee has the potential to turn into that sort of [strike] bowler," Ponting said. "He's a good new-ball bowler. He swings the ball. The more they stick with him the better he'll become. They are always competitive in the shorter forms of the game, I think Dan made mention coming into this game that he feels they are a bit stretched in Test match cricket against the better teams."
Their lack of wickets meant it was all the more important for the batsmen to step up and apart from a second-innings century from Brendon McCullum in Hamilton and Ross Taylor's record fast hundred in Hamilton, there wasn't much to cheer on that front. As with the bowling, the three top performers with the bat in the series were Australians, and the frustration for the hosts was players not capitalising on their starts.
No doubt that was linked to the quality of bowling from Johnson, Doug Bollinger and Ryan Harris. However, Vettori was disappointed with a lack of steel from the batting department, particularly in comparison to their opposition.
"We've seen examples of how Australia have done it with Katich and Hussey and on to Clarke and North," Vettori said. "They've just taken responsibility to get the job done and we didn't do that as often as we need to against Australia. As a Test match unit we've still got a lot to improve on."
For Australia, the series win meant a 7-0 result from eight Tests this summer and there were positive signs including the return to form of Marcus North, who averaged 105 in the two games. Harris' development was also impressive after he began the season injured and not in contention to play Test cricket, while Phillip Hughes' blazing 86 in Wellington was another plus.
"With Harris yes [we've learnt something], with Hughes, we've probably always known what he's got," Ponting said. "Having guys like Steve Smith and Clint McKay around the group for this tour, they would have learnt a lot as well. When you think we have Ben Hilfenhaus and Peter Siddle and those guys out on the sidelines, we have got great depth at the moment."
New Zealand would love to be in that situation. Until they find that depth, it's hard to see Trans-Tasman Trophy battles becoming much more evenly contested.
Brydon Coverdale is a staff writer at Cricinfo