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Tour and tournament reports

Australia vs New Zealand, 2019-20

A review of Australia vs New Zealand, 2019-20

Gideon Haigh
Marnus Labuschagne celebrates his double-hundred, Australia v New Zealand, 3rd Test, Sydney, 2nd day, January 4, 2020

Marnus Labuschagne celebrates his double-hundred  •  Getty Images

Test matches (3): Australia 3 (120pts), New Zealand 0 (0pts)
A series that appeared to brim with promise turned into another home walkover, as Australia streeted New Zealand in three consecutive Tests, each with a day to spare, to retain the Trans-Tasman Trophy. Even if Australia have usually had the edge over their neighbours, New Zealand have resisted defiantly and resourcefully. Not this time. They played well below their No. 2 ranking, and managed only five innings over 50. With the exception of the indefatigable Neil Wagner, who bowled no fewer than 157.3 overs for 17 wickets at 22, and to a lesser extent Tim Southee, their bowlers were barely more than steady.
For Australia, the clean sweep concluded a home summer powerfully restating their ownership of their conditions - even as bushfires burned across the land, leading to concerns (unfounded, it turned out) that the Sydney Test would be affected. It also featured an unfamiliar accent. Steve Smith and David Warner contributed usefully, but the outstanding batsman on either side was South African-born Marnus Labuschagne, whose double-century in Sydney was his first, not only in Tests but in first-class cricket, and unlikely to be his last. The acquisitive Labuschagne faced 940 deliveries across the three Tests, 49 of which he hit for four, three for six. Equally impressive was his defence, which in its patience and technical purity confirmed the good notices he had attracted in England and against Pakistan. By the end of the series, he had become the world's third-ranked Test batsman, having started 2019 at 110.
At Melbourne, where New Zealand were playing their first Test in 32 years (and only their fourth in all), the decisive partnership was shared by Travis Head and Tim Paine. Warner contributed a breezy hundred under little pressure at Sydney. Of the rest, little else was required. Australia's high-class pace attack, with Nathan Lyon in reserve, proved impossible to resist. Josh Hazlewood's injury at Perth Stadium, whose hard surfaces left everyone footsore, placed an additional onus on Pat Cummin sand Mitchell Starc, but they were more than equal to the responsibility, especially when augmented by James Pattinson. In the last Test, Lyon remedied an indifferent record at the SCG with ten wickets for 118. None of the frontline bowlers gave away more than three an over.
New Zealand's tour was blighted by injuries from the moment Lockie Ferguson, on Test debut, suffered a calf strain on the opening day of the seriesat Perth. Trent Boult, who arrived unfit, broke his hand while batting at Melbourne; Matt Henry and Tom Latham both broke fingers in the field at Sydney, where influenza had already ruled out Kane Williamson, Mitchell Santner and Henry Nicholls, while "workload management" scrubbed Southee.
But, really, the damage was done by the visitors' desultory approach to the series, their two home Tests against England preventing the most rudimentary match practice in Australian conditions. New Zealand were expected to go from misty rain on a pudding pitch with a red ball to - ten days later and three time zones west - 40-degree temperatures on a bouncy surface with a pink ball, with just two training sessions to acclimatise. Five sessions in the field knocked the stuffing from them; the sixth, which involved batting under lights as the day faded, left them 109 for five in reply to 416.
From there, things got worse. Excessive temperatures persuaded the New Zealanders to cancel the first day of their two-day practice match against a Victoria XI, and the tourists were voluntarily undermined when Williamson sentAustraliainonaflattrack at the MCG, deceived by some cloud cover which promptly blew away.
Williamson was perhaps the gravest disappointment, restricted to 57runs in four hits. In the last, he was unlucky, speculatively dismissed lbw; otherwise, New Zealand's numero uno was uncharacteristically hesitant. Ross Taylor became his country's highest Test scorer, but otherwise had little impact. The best batting performance came from Tom Blundell, whose 121 in the second innings at Melbourne came in the first game in which he had opened in his first-class career. Solid in defence behind a low crouch, and a crisp timer of the ball, he looked made for a task that was well beyond his team-mates.