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Cricket news - In the pink Australia initiate a new aura

Is this group regaining the aura of the old?

Is this group regaining the aura of the old?

A fast bowler charging in at Perth with a short-leg, a silly-point and a leg-gully despite the opposition being 421 runs ahead. A batsman deliberately getting into the way of his bouncers, getting hit on the elbow and arm repeatedly and egging him with "keep coming, big boy". The best batsman across both sides being dismissed twice by the short-ball. A batting line-up being blown away in 65 overs with fiery and at times unplayable bursts of short-pitched carnage. And the winning captain lauding the "great theatre" and suggesting that the rest of the series might have a "Bodyline" theme to it.

You'd be pardoned for believing we'd been transported back in time to the batsmen-haunting days of the WACA where we'd witnessed the latest ambush of a hapless batting outfit. Well, the Kiwis did look, some of them anyway, rather out-of-depth against the searing pace of Mitchell Starc and Pat Cummins, especially when the two Aussie pacemen got deliveries to land on cracks and rear towards their throats. And the replay of Mitchell Santner's dismissal, in particular, could well be considered a throwback to the highlights reel package of a more 'late 1970s' vintage.

We weren't at the WACA though. And this wasn't a pacey, demonic Perth pitch either. If anything, it'd been pulled up for being a tad slower than necessary, and we'd actually seen the Kiwis employ a short-cover and short mid-wicket for Neil Wagner on the first evening of the Test. And though Wagner and Tim Southee had produced a bouncer-barrage late on Day 3 to upset the Aussie middle-order, they'd succeeded more owing to their unerring consistency rather than any amount of intimidation or viciousness. The pitch did get quicker as the match progressed and the cracks got wider.

But the ineptitude with which New Zealand collapsed on Sunday, just like they had in the first innings, had little to do with pace and bounce or Perth turning back the clock. It had more to do with the vagaries of pink-ball day-night Test cricket, the extreme heat and its impact on the pitch, and Australia simply utilising both to their advantage with absolute precision. And some outstanding bowling from their pacers and Nathan Lyon despite the loss of Josh Hazlewood after 8 deliveries. Or as Kane Williamson put it, "their pink-ball tactics were right on point".

Except the fact that they didn't get to bowl with a new-ball under lights on Day 4, which they didn't need eventually, Australia played the perfect day-night Test. They won the toss and batted long enough to not only post 416 on the board, but also ensure that the Kiwi batsmen, playing their first pink-ball Test in over two years, were right away exposed to the biggest vagary in this case - facing Starc with a new-ball under lights. And once they failed that test, to quote Williamson again, "Australia led from start to finish".

"It is what it is," is an expression that Williamson has used a lot during what has been a dramatic year for New Zealand cricket. When asked whether his team had been dealt a rather unfair hand by being thrown into the cauldron of Perth Stadium with three days of practice in the nets, the Kiwi captain admitted that it was hard to blame the "preparation" alone but that in an "ideal world" his team could have done with more time. It's only fair that they should feel a tad aggrieved even if this New Zealand team will never admit it. And hopefully those who do decide upon schedules ensure that no visiting team in the future has to endure a pink-ball inquisition without being allowed at least one practice game on the side. Not like it helped Pakistan of course. Australia were just too good for them in Adelaide 10 days ago after all.

The ruthlessness with which Australia play day-night Tests at home, you actually wonder if even a well-prepared Kiwi outfit would have stood a real chance against them. Like with India who sit comfortably on top of the overall Test championship ratings, Australia are already creating quite a gulf in terms of being the most dominant pink-ball side in the world. And not just because they seem to play this format more than the others.

Their red-ball team too, meanwhile, seems to be regaining the same kind of aura, what with the top-order now looking exceedingly formidable, despite Smith's two relative failures, and a bowling attack which now with Starc's latest transformation is arguably the best in the world. Not surprising then that after polishing off the Kiwis for 171 to record a 296-run win for the hosts, Cummins, Starc and Lyon now occupy the first three spots in the highest Test wicket-takers' list for the year.

While Cummins and Lyon have been on top of their game for some time now, it's the new and improved avatar of Starc the Test bowler that looks set to help Australia potentially establish a kind of irresistible and impregnable dominance, at least on home soil. His spell on the second night when he ended up with four out of five Kiwi wickets to fall was at some level reminiscent of Mitchell Johnson at his peak against England 6 years ago. It was similar here on Sunday as he went after the powerless New Zealanders, and at times you did fear for their physical danger. That he doesn't just bowl with pace while thriving on the control provided by Cummins and Hazlewood and is instead creating his own pressure at his end, only means there's no escape for the batsman. And at this rate you wouldn't think the colour of the ball should alter the threat for the left-arm paceman.

It was Cummins though who produced the most lethal delivery of the day when he hit a fending BJ Watling on the grille, with the ball nearly sneaking through. It was certainly a ball that belonged to the inglorious days of the WACA - if you were a batsman who considered Perth as literally a graveyard shift back in the day that is. It was a ball that was worthy of getting worried about Bodyline proportions. And it was one that is sure to put the visitors on notice even if they're next challenge will be with a red-ball, which they've tasted considerable success with, and at the MCG, where you'd think they'll feel a lot less out of place. Not like the Aussies look keen on making their lives any easier.

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