New Zealand have been left to pick up the pieces from a heavy defeat in Perth as they aim to plot a way back into the series ahead of Boxing Day. The visitors, however, were able to take one significant success from a torrid four days in the western Australian heat after bringing a plan together to quell Steven Smith.
That Australia earned victory without a major contribution from Smith may have been encouraging for them, but New Zealand had the satisfaction of twice claiming him with smart use of the short ball as he fell for 43 and 16, meaning he has yet to score a Test fifty this season. That could easily come back to bite New Zealand in the next few weeks but, for now, it’s a success many other teams have failed to pull off.
They showed their hand at the World Cup earlier this year when Smith was spectacularly caught at leg gully by Martin Guptill. (The plan also worked in Christchurch back in 2016.) In Perth, he picked out leg gully again in the first innings before pulling to deep square-leg in the second, both times off Neil Wagner.
“Any time you get Steve Smith out for less than his average is probably a good thing but it’s only one match and I know he was in the nets every day,” New Zealand coach Gary Stead said. “He’ll try and work out ways to combat what we do and we have to have other plans if that doesn’t work for us.
“Having plans is one thing but you have to execute them over a long period and one thing I’m proud of is our guys stuck at plans we thought were right; with Steve, it worked in particular. If you look at the World Cup as well, we tried that tactic, so I suspect we’ll be discussing [that plan] and other ones if he is able to handle, but certainly something I think we’ll keep pursuing.”
“I can’t promise you that I can pluck out guys that can bowl 150kph from New Zealand and bring them over here because I’m not sure we necessarily have them that are fit and available”
Wagner’s success against Smith was part of a mammoth effort in which he sent down 60 overs, the most by a pace bowler in a single Test for more than four years, in temperatures over 40-degree C, as he carried a huge burden after Lockie Ferguson suffered a calf strain on the opening day, which has ruled him out of the tour.
Ferguson faces up to six weeks on the sidelines, which makes him doubtful for the start of India’s visit to New Zealand, starting with the T20Is towards the end of January. A replacement will be confirmed on Tuesday as the squad heads to Melbourne to regroup. Candidates for a call-up include the uncapped pair of Scott Kuggeleijn and Kyle Jamieson, who both played for New Zealand A against England last month, and the experienced Hamish Bennett.
However, they are likely to have Trent Boult available after a conservative approach was taken with him to avoid the risk of his side strain recurring. New Zealand have two days of match practice against a Victoria XI ahead of the second Test.
“We weren’t prepared to take a chance given the length of the season and what’s still to come,” Stead said. “We weighted up the short-term pain if he was re-injured and the long-term gain of what’s coming up.”
The injury to Ferguson means New Zealand have lost one potential point of difference in their attack with someone who can bowl above 145kph and there aren’t any like-for-like replacements available.
“I can’t promise you that I can pluck out guys that can bowl 150kph from New Zealand and bring them over here because I’m not sure we necessarily have them that are fit and available,” Stead said. “We’ll consider everything we’ve got but there’s still some positives for us that we can go to Melbourne with and work out how to put Australia under pressure.
“I thought Tim Southee and Neil Wagner were outstanding in the job they did. We know we aren’t the fastest attack in the world but I think the pressure they still managed to apply was significant for us. We didn’t get the result we wanted but their performances were lion-hearted.”
Despite being bundled for 166 and 171 – with Ross Taylor the only batsman to pass fifty – Stead was confident there would not be any lingering damage to confidence. The pitch for Boxing Day is an unknown factor at the moment following the abandonment of the Sheffield Shield match between Victoria and Western Australia, with a chance that will lead to a cautious approach by the ground staff.
“There’s no excuses; we didn’t adapt as well as we hoped to,” Stead said. “I’m not sure Melbourne and Sydney will have the same extremities of pitch conditions; it will be more like what we are used to. We don’t make knee-jerk reactions. Australia played very well, we know they are very hard to beat in these conditions but we also have an experienced squad who won’t panic. We know we can be better.”