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Match Analysis

When 'mini-Buddha' lost his calm and New Zealand lost the plot, again

Williamson's diabolical run-out and Southee's drop on the last ball of the day summed up New Zealand's mental block against Australia in Test cricket

Alex Malcolm
Alex Malcolm
It's all been a bit of a tangle for New Zealand out there  •  Getty Images

It's all been a bit of a tangle for New Zealand out there  •  Getty Images

Kane Williamson is normally unflappable. His team-mates describe him as a "miniature Buddha". Always calm. Always present. Never fazed.
The sight of Williamson looking stunned, shaking his head, not knowing where to look after a calamitous run-out where he collided with his batting partner Will Young, was the perfect metaphor for the Black Caps' woes against Australia.
It has reached the point where Australia's Rugby team, the Wallabies, who have an equally woeful record against New Zealand's All Blacks, should consider walking out for their next Bledisloe Cup match at Eden Park in whites and Baggy Green caps, such is mental stranglehold Australia's cricketers have over New Zealand.
After letting Australia wriggle off the hook at 89 for 4, 211 for 7 and 269 for 9 to concede 383 after winning the toss and electing to bowl on a surface that offered plenty, New Zealand lost three wickets in six balls to slump to 12 for 3 on their way to being bowled out for 179.
Williamson's run-out was diabolical. Having walked out after the loss of Tom Latham, the serene mini-Buddha was in a hurry to get off the mark second ball. He pushed a drive towards straight mid-off and made a late decision to take off without calculating the proximity of a prowling Marnus Labuschagne. Young was late to react to Williamson's call and, as they both watched Labuschagne swoop, slide and release the throw, they collided mid-pitch. Young dropped his bat, Williamson ricocheted into Mitchell Starc, who was an idle bystander, and Labuschagne hit middle from close range as he so often does.
Williamson was frazzled. He turned his head to Young as if to find someone or something to blame. But the reality was, even with a clear and direct path to the crease line, the run would have been incredibly tight.
As bad as the run-out was, the entire sequence encapsulated the Black Caps' mental state against Australia.
Latham has been an excellent Test opener over a decade-long career averaging over 40 before this Test with 13 centuries. But in 17 Test innings against Australia, his average drops to 25.29 with a highest score of just 63. Starc has been his chief tormentor. And it didn't take much for Starc to remove him for a fifth time in Test cricket. A good-length delivery on a fourth stump line exposed an indecisive mind. Latham wasn't sure whether to leave or play and dragged a late defensive shot onto his stumps.
Five balls later, with Williamson having already come and gone, Rachin Ravindra fell meekly. Ravindra has no mental baggage against Australia. He slaughtered them in a stunning ODI century in Dharamsala last year. He made a Test 240 less than a month ago. But he sliced a square drive in the air straight to Nathan Lyon at point off Josh Hazlewood before he had scored.
Twelve for 3 became 29 for 5 when two more Black Caps with no mental baggage against Australia succumbed. Daryl Mitchell was tested endlessly on the front foot by Starc, Hazlewood and Pat Cummins as Australia's trio of quicks bowled much fuller than their New Zealand counterparts had. Mitchell tried to walk down the track at them to mix up their lengths, as he does in white-ball cricket and as Cameron Green had done with great success in his epic 174 not out. But he was beaten time and again. Finally, Cummins pitched short and Mitchell nailed a pull shot for four. Cummins sent square leg back. The next ball was a double bluff. Good length again, nipping away, Mitchell prodded and edged and was on his way.
First ball next over, Mitchell Marsh burgled another with Young tickling a leg glance into Alex Carey's gloves.
"Here we go again" was the murmur among the Wellington crowd. There's a reason New Zealand haven't won a home Test against Australia in 31 years and none anywhere in nearly 13. The calm, controlled and consistent cricket they play against other nations seems to disappear in the Tasman winds whenever their neighbours arrive from across the ditch.
It was telling that the major fight came from two men who have performed well against Australia.
Success does breed success. Tom Blundell and Glenn Phillips produced two of the standout batting performances in New Zealand's 3-0 series defeat in Australia in 2019-20.
They showed no fear in an excellent century stand to help New Zealand avoid conceding a larger first-innings deficit. Phillips took on Australia's full lengths, thumping the quicks repeatedly down the ground. He was particularly savage on Starc and later climbed into Lyon on his way to a blistering 42-ball half-century.
Blundell was organised and compact at the other end, but likewise cashed in on anything loose with positive footwork and great timing. But he was undone by Lyon's turn and bounce, skipping down to the wrong length and gifting a bat-pad catch to Travis Head.
Normal service resumed. Scott Kuggeleijn holed out to deep forward square with a filthy slog off Lyon second ball. The stare from Phillips at his partner as he trudged off was far more venomous than Williamson's to Young had been earlier.
Phillips fell by the sword for 71, holing out to fine leg trying to hook Hazlewood. Matt Henry is the only Black Cap to belie a poor prior record against Australia in this game. He continued to carry New Zealand after his five wickets, contributing a vital 41 off 34 with four sixes. But his side still conceded a 205-run deficit as Lyon wrapped up the tail to finish with four.
New Zealand are not out of the game. Tim Southee produced two late strikes to remove Steven Smith and Labuschagne but they were not the dismissals of a bowler in top form. A filthy drag-on and a strangle down leg merely dragged his career bowling average against Australia back to 41.97 and his strike rate back to 74.9 after going wicketless in 27 overs in the first innings.
The final moment of the day was an exclamation point on the Black Caps' day and their woes against Australia. The entire team threw hands on heads as Southee sprawled to the turf at third slip having spilled a sitter off Henry to give Australia's nightwatcher Lyon a life.
Here we go again.

Alex Malcolm is an associate editor at ESPNcricinfo