Jason Gillespie was supposedly out-of-form and leaving Brett Lee out looked to be a mistake. Both myths were quickly dispelled as New Zealand's new-look top order flopped today in the toughest of acid tests.
Only the retired Waugh brothers and the 12th man Brett Lee were missing from the side that met New Zealand in the last Test series in 2001. The result for New Zealand was an opposition with the same old faces presenting the tightest of on-field units and forcing the sudden reappearance of pressures unique to past battles with the world's best bowling attack.
Such is the unrelenting consistency of this attack that New Zealand's first-innings ability to absorb the opening burst was quickly replaced by technical inadequacies hastened by Australia's extreme mental pressure. Of the top seven batsmen, only Craig Cumming was genuinely undone by a good ball.
A slow but steady start of 30 for 1 after 15 overs soon became a precarious 34 for 3 in 18 overs. From Shane Warne's standard "oohing" and "aahing" post delivery, to Gillespie's pounding of a perfect line and length, to Adam Gilchrist's laughter at a struggling Craig McMillan, it was a blitzkrieg only the Australians are capable of.
During the one-day series New Zealand turned to its sports psychologist for answers. If there is to be a repeat visit, McMillan should be first in the queue. After a heated verbal spar with Gilchrist at Brisbane in November, McMillan fell to the next ball. Gilchrist was at it again today as Warne claimed McMillan in comical circumstances.
After a decent warm-up bowling around the wicket to Hamish Marshall, Warne chose the same approach from the first ball to McMillan. In the space of five leg-breaks into the footmarks, McMillan, the right-hander, went from confident to confused to incompetent.
On his Test debut at the Gabba in 1997, McMillan went to 50 by lofting Warne back over his head for six: today he inexplicably padded off two full tosses. The second one had Gilchrist and others around the bat in hysterics and it proved too much for McMillan when he unnecessarily prodded the outrageously wide next ball to short leg.
McMillan was not the only one to get in a tangle. Stephen Fleming and Lou Vincent both got pads in the way of bats and Nathan Astle blew a solid start with indecisiveness around off stump. Marshall did not have the confident air of a first-innings centurion. Gillespie and Michael Kasprowicz unsettled him with short-pitched deliveries and after a gusty 77-ball stay, Marshall lost his concentration and was bowled behind his legs by Warne.
New Zealand's collapse to 87 for 6 was a direct result of the bowlers devising a plan and executing it with precision. Gillespie was a standout, claiming Cumming with the perfect three-ball over. After seaming two away from the right-hander, Cumming was deceived when Gillespie cut one back. Vincent's dismissal was a virtual replica. A Gillespie leg-cutter found Vincent's edge but also Matthew Hayden's butter fingers at slip. Two balls later Gillespie beat Vincent's defensive lunge for a second lbw.
Cricket fundamentals rather than complicated science underlie the Australian approach to bowling. The magic comes from the quick men putting the ball on the spot and hitting the seam with regularity. There is nothing stopping New Zealand from trying to emulate this. The other critical basic central to Australia's performance today - a quick bowler in tandem with a quality legspinner - is something New Zealand can only dream of.