So rushed was Glenn Phillips‘ call-up to the New Zealand squad that he didn’t have a numbered shirt when he took the field on the opening day. Dragged off the beach, having almost missed the phone call from selector Gavin Larsen, and racing through traffic to catch a plane across the Tasman, he was making his debut 12 hours later when Kane Williamson and Henry Nicholls were laid out by the flu.
The team liaison helped get shirts printed up and by the second session Phillips had 23 on his back. On the third day, he earned a more significant number: 52 in his first Test innings. It has become a tour of accidental success for New Zealand’s batting, which has, on the whole, been overwhelmed by Australia’s bowling. This innings was the first time Australia had been forced to take the second new ball in the series as Phillips followed Tom Blundell’s rearguard century at the MCG in giving them momentary relief from the disappointments.
“Everyone gets called up a different way and mine was a little more entertaining than others,” Phillips said. “It certainly gives me a story to tell the kids and grandkids one day.”
He rode his luck. Nathan Lyon twice spilled return catches, with Phillips on 2 and 17, while he was also caught at deep square-leg off a James Pattinson no-ball, on 28. But there was enough evidence of his pedigree and the development from someone previously regarded as a T20 player – he made his international debut in the format in 2017 – to a much more rounded all-format player.
The numbers had started to come in domestic cricket where he was the third-highest run-scorer in last season’s Plunket Shield – 610 runs at 76.25 – and there was a century for New Zealand A against England in November.
After walking in following the loss of two wickets in three balls, and given the early life by Lyon, his first Test boundary was a powerful pull off the spinner. Two more consecutive boundaries came off Lyon then against the second new ball he produced a pristine straight drive off Mitchell Starc and a pull for six off Pat Cummins before another swivel-pull took him to fifty off 113 balls.
It did not take long from the moment he marked his guard for the first time in Test cricket for an eye-catching comparison to gain plenty of interest: an uncanny similarity to Steven Smith’s technique. Phillips said that some of it was coincidental, but that the backlift had been borrowed.
“I used to shuffle across every second or third ball, then over the winter I just struggled to move my feet one day and decided to do it every ball and it brought a little more rhythm to my technique,” he explained. “I did take one thing out of Smudgers’ [Smith’s] technique where his bat goes way out from his body. For me, when I brought my shoulders back into line everything came down a bit more central, as opposed when I first started with [the bat] straight behind me it would pop out the other side and I’d get into trouble between the gate.”
Two deliveries after the fifty, however, and the fourth chance Australia had to remove him went into the scoreboard when Cummins produced a beauty that nipped back through the gate to take off stump. “Obviously something in the universe was saying after 50, you’ve got no more chances, mate. It’s just been that sort of lucky day, lucky couple of days,” he said. “Things swing both ways. Today, it swung my way. I wish I could have gone on a little bit longer with that luck but as I said, one slight mistake and that’s all it takes to end your innings at this level. For a Test debut, other than potentially getting a hundred, it’s not a half bad start.”
While Phillips more than held his own, it was a case of what might have been for the rest of the New Zealand’s top order with five others falling between 20 and 49. Blundell was bowled through his legs, Jeet Raval had played well following his illness before being pinned lbw by Lyon; Tom Latham drove loosely to mid-on and Ross Taylor was trapped in front to remain 21 short of becoming New Zealand’s highest Test run-scorer. The most exasperating dismissal, though, belonged to Colin de Grandhomme who was run out coming back for a second when he took on Matthew Wade’s arm at deep square leg.
They managed to edge past 250 for the first time in the series as Matt Henry had his broken thumb targeted by Mitchell Starc before Lyon completed his first home ground five-wicket haul. When Australia, unsurprisingly, did not enforce the follow-on it meant that come Monday New Zealand will have fielded on all 12 days of the series.
Although there has been some small improvement over the last two innings, the batting has just not been able to withstand the sustained pressure from Australia. At some point on the fourth day – weather permitting – they will begin their final innings in pursuit of a draw which will need more than one piece of personal success to achieve.