Let's get this Hobart Test into perspective then; I don't see it as quite the surprise and quite the train smash that a lot of other Australian writers think it is.
It's not such a bad thing for Australian cricket because now there's a genuine sense of competition and hopefully that will translate into a renewed interest in the longer format. Having said that, I hear that the Test was poorly patronised in ground attendance terms but my gut feeling is that it was widely followed on TV, on the radio and via the internet. I'd like to think Australian cricket fans (as opposed to fans of the Australian cricket team) realise now that every Test match is a genuine contest and well worth taking an interest in.
It's not that much of a surprise because if NZ were going to play well at any ground in Australia, it was likely to be on this greenish Hobart deck with conditions ideally suited to swing bowling too. It is probably the closest thing they would find to local conditions in NZ, with the ball nipping around off the seam and swinging in the air. It's the sort of pitch that suited their scrappy, battling, brave style of cricket, especially against an Australian batting order that refuses to bat in any other way other than to hit the ball on the up and away from the body. On good, hard decks, that works a treat. This was a pitch that required a bit of old-fashioned grafting - whilst Australia were still unlikely losers, it wasn't that much of a shock was it?
New Zealand played smart cricket and most importantly, they held their catches in the slips. Both Ross Taylor and Martin Guptill were excellent in the field and that was probably the difference. Had they shelled any of those catches in either innings, that might have been the difference. They expected the Australian batsmen to try to hit through the ball instead of treating it like the green seamer it was and when the chances came, predictably from players like Phillip Hughes and Brad Haddin, they grasped them. For their part, the Australian batsmen kept throwing hard hands at the ball and looked dismayed when it ended predictably, in tears. Again, where's the surprise in that?
What is of more concern to Team Australia is the issue of how they get their batsmen into any sort of Test match nick before Boxing Day. Perhaps it's just a timing issue or a cluttered calendar or a slight under-estimation of New Zealand's appetite for a battle but from a preparation point of view, the Big Bash League could not have come at a worse time. How do you get batsmen to practice leaving the outswinger alone or not playing across the line when you're in constant Twenty20 mode? It would take an exceptional player to be able to switch from Twenty20 mentality back to Test match style and I'm not sure if any of the players in the gunsights are that exceptional. Well, their form isn't that exceptional anyway.
The bright spots on the horizon are worth celebrating too. James Pattinson and David Warner have both given us enough to be optimistic about. Let's not forget though that Hughes too started off with centuries early in his Test career and he's now the subject of intense technical scrutiny. For a domestic system that lauds itself as being the best in the world, one has to wonder how Hughes' apparent technical shortcomings were not exploited by Sheffield Shield bowlers. How can he score so prolifically in Shield cricket if his faults were that obvious? I'm of the opinion that Hughes is just one swashbuckling innings away from redemption, so long as he reverts to that style of play. He will never be a Katich-style grafter so we might as well move on from that era and accept that he scores in different zones and can self-combust more spectacularly too. The kid scored a Test century just a few months ago in Sri Lanka and came close to another one a month ago in South Africa. Likewise Michael Hussey, who carried the batting in Sri Lanka - he'll come good again. Haddin is the one who probably needs to be looked at because he seems to getting out in the same way without peeling off a big score to warrant the risks he's taking to drive on the up through cover and mid-off.
For an fogey like me who has no interest in the BLL circus with pensioners masquerading as stars, I'm looking forward to the real cricket starting again in Melbourne on Boxing Day. India too have their old men turning out but these guys are deadly serious. Sachin Tendulkar, VVS Laxman and Rahul Dravid against the young fast bowlers like Peter Siddle and Pattinson... worth waiting for. All New Zealand have done is to remind us that this Australian team is vulnerable. Very vulnerable. And that's good for cricket.
Michael Jeh is an Oxford Blue who played first-class cricket, and a Playing Member of the MCC. He lives in Brisbane