A weak New Zealand side was expected to be easybeats for the Australian eleven, and in the First Test at The Gabba they were. But at Hobart, they prevailed, in three-and-a-half days by seven runs in an exciting if low-scoring match on a greentop.
Without their veteran Dan Vettori (and it seems like yesterday that he was the eighteen year-old rookie, not 1997), New Zealand's pace attack, particularly Doug Bracewell, rose to the occasion, pegging down Australia for 233 in the face of a 241 target. NZ won after scoring 150 in their first innings, after being sent into bat by Australia, a rarity in itself.
A match which, for Australia, echoes both the Centenary Test of 1977 (still my favourite Test of all) and Edgbaston 2005, was their first home defeat by New Zealand since 1985, and their first Test loss at Bellerive Oval to anyone. It was also the first defeat, on Australian international duty, for the new selection panel chaired by John Inverarity, and for coach Mickey Arthur (and more about their task ahead in my next blog post.)
And Hobart 2011 was a match in which Australia's star player was David Warner.
Dismissed by many, including me, as a "big bash" specialist, Warner was playing ODIs and T20s for Australia in 2009 - sensationally - before his first-class debut for New South Wales, however his maturity as a multi-day player has become notable this season. Warner was a surprise selection to open for Australia in Brisbane after injuries to Shane Watson and Shaun Marsh, and his main contributions to the nine-wicket victory came in the field. All up, in his Test debut he faced seven deliveries, bowled six and caught four.
But in carrying the bat for 123 not out in Australia's unsuccessful second innings in Hobart, Warner has played an innings which can already be looked upon as a minor classic - only defeat prevents it from claiming a more immortal status. His temperament during the tenth-wicket stand with Nathan Lyon (34 runs, 7.4 overs) was remarkable even if he probably gave Lyon more of the strike than was recommended. But this was a 24 year-old playing in his second Test in a scenario that just doesn't exist in the Twenty20 world.
So with the series tied 1-1, we head off to the third and deciding Test at... well, we don't. This was another of those "series" that are better described as "two-off Tests", shoehorned into the schedule to meet the minimum requirements of the ICC Test rankings. In this instance, there was also that other commercial fear, that of the Third Test dead rubber after a 2-0 blowout. No such justification with the Australia-New Zealand meeting of 2011-12.
It would be nice to be able to arrange a tie-breaking Third Test between Australia and New Zealand for late in the summer to decide the series winner, but the seriously overloaded international calendar won't permit it. I'd like to see the Australia v New Zealand Test rivalry turn into an annual event in the manner of rugby union's Bledisloe Cup, but split into three "one-off" matches spread across the year - one in Australia, one in New Zealand, and the decider alternating between. No reason why Australia couldn't stage one of their home games in northern Australia - Darwin, Cairns or Townsville - in the middle of the southern winter.
One stumbling block would be that the pesky ICC Test championship system would need some serious tweaking. But let that not be an impediment.
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