NET NEWS (Championspk )At first ruddy blush, pink-ball Test cricket belongs with the bionic ear, the Hills Hoist, the winged keel, Wi-Fi and plastic bank notes on the list of great Australian inventions. The robust contest was the cake, the grandstand finish and Australia’s win the icing. The biggest non-Ashes aggregate attendance at the Adelaide Oval was vindication. It was a fillip for Test cricket, and timely at that. Expect the limited editions poster on the morrow.
More forensic judgments will be made in, well, the cold light of day, absent floodlights, absent the roar of the greasepaint and the smell of the crowd. As an antidote to 500-versus-500 Test matches, it was unarguable. But you imagine that in time, three-day, 200-versus-200 would begin to feel incomplete. This was on a ground where there had never previously been a Test without a 250-plus score, and where there has been at least one century in every match since 1993. The highest score in this match was 66.
The dramatic change to par was due to conditions carefully tailored to preserve the pink ball. The question for authorities now is whether they refine conditions and gamble on a ball that may coarsen and prove harder to see in them. New Zealand captain Brendon McCullum discreetly noted that lights and the pink ball were meant to facilitate the staging of Test cricket at night, not fundamentally alter it. But for now, no one is complaining. In any revolution, in any sphere, generally there is over-correction before a happy medium is found.
Certainly, day-night Test cricket has opened up not just a new vista for the game, but new prospects within games, calling for different ways of thinking. One is dusk, and the problems it poses for batsmen, making it pivotal. Like cloud at Headingley or dew at Mohali, it changes the physics of the game. Unlike cloud and dew, you can set your watch by it. It is much more than an incidental.
In light of this, so to speak, New Zealand missed one last trick on Sunday morning. The least they needed to do was prolong their innings to the end of making Australia bat principally in the twilight and at night. Instead, they lost their last five wickets before the first break; only insouciant debutant Mitch Santner demonstrated the necessary stickability. Of course, in this unprecedented environment, it was problematic to distinguish between what was give and what was take. Josh Hazlewood bowled well enough to claim it all as take. He was a worthy man of the match.
But as it was, Australia was through to the bone, to wit Mitch Starc’s fractured metatarsal, before they claimed victory. In the fourth innings pursuit, both teams betrayed jitters, both covering up sometimes with technique, sometimes with bluff. David Warner gave Australia a gung-ho start, Sean Marsh of all people brought an old salt’s calming influence mid-innings, but still the wickets fell and the runs contracted. The ball stopped swinging, then started again. Trent Boult rediscovered his vocation, and for 15 minutes, the Australians were as transfixed as rabbits in headlights. For the winning runs, Starc hopped painfully up and down the pitch, and it neatly illustrated the way Australia got over the line.
The difference was hair’s breadth; it might so easily have been 1-1. But Australia’s series win was only their due. Though still evolving, and far from settled, they thrashed the Kiwis in Brisbane and edged them here, and in between both teams were neutralised by the pitch in Perth. Australia have had to be adaptable, and were. Hazlewood silenced the critics, and Sean Marsh at least muffled them for now. Don’t mark him down for his dismissal; in the pinching circumstances, it was an occupational hazard.
New Zealand played their part in the Adelaide Oval drama, but overall disappointed. They came with their own hype, but ultimately didn’t believe it. McCullum impressed as a statesman, but floundered as a batsman and his captaincy was was unnecessarily quirky.
Too often, he tried to give clever answers to the simple questions in the game. This was never more evident than when he persisted with spin against the slogging of Australia’s tailenders immediately after Nathan Lyon’s controversial reprieve on Saturday. New Zealand lost the match there, and then so nearly recovered it. For that, they earned a salute. On this day, it took three to tango, Australia, New Zealand and the occasion.