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Come on, New Zealand … sort of

That wasn’t so surprising. For all the many sublime cricketers Pakistan has produced, they have always been toothless in Australia. They’ve won four Tests here, ever.

So how many have the Kiwis won? Would you believe it’s three? Two were in one series in 1985, when the peerless Richard Hadlee took 33 wickets in three Tests. The other was in Hobart in 2011, David Warner’s first Test (don’t blame him: he made an unbeaten second-innings century).

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It’s a paltry tally, fewer than you might imagine. Partly, that’s down to too few meetings. For decades at a time, Australia barely deigned. The Chappell-Hadlee Trophy became like a Christmas decoration, spending most of its time in a drawer.

But it is also the thing about New Zealand in and against Australia. Often preceded by bullish advance notices, they rarely live up to them. Somewhere on the short hop, their best intentions shrink. Remember the 2015 World Cup? For six weeks, the Kiwis swept all before them. Then they came to the MCG for the final against Australia and were smashed.

The late Martin Crowe, former Kiwi captain and superstar bat, suspected it was not from caring too little, but too much. Series against Australia were New Zealand’s Ashes, he said. Not so for Australia; they already have an Ashes. Hence the Kiwis’ record here: 31 Tests, three wins.

At one level, this imbalance is only logical. New Zealand has a smaller population than Melbourne, even when they’re all at home. But we’ve become accustomed to them punching far above their weight. Think rugby, landscapes, the arts, Prime Ministers.

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And cricket. Somehow, they’re often way beyond their station. Their cast role is permanent upstart. The standing Test cricket rankings chart shakes down roughly in order of population until you get to Pakistan at No. 8 – except for the Kiwis at No. 2. This year, they got so close to winning the World Cup final, they didn’t actually lose it. In Test cricket, they’ve just beaten England.

Geopolitically, they’re no-one. Cricket politics operates like an American presidential primary: it’s strictly about the money. You tell by the fact that the Kiwis have been scheduled first-up in a day-nighter in Perth, a slot that sits outside the time-space continuum. In New Zealand, it will mean post-midnight finishes.

The Kiwis are powerless, and yet they’re not. They find ways. Their best-performed sides tended to be built around one or two mega-stars such as Hadlee and Crowe, some ingenuity and a lot of doggedness.

Kane Williamson’s team is different. He’s an authentic star, a slimline heavyweight, but the feature of both batting and bowling – as long as Trent Boult and Colin De Grandhomme are fit – is that they run impressively deep. England found it hard to get them all out and keep them all out.

Australia at home are formidable. But it is possible that in the series against Pakistan, they were flattered to be deceived.

David Warner after his 335 not out against Pakistan.

David Warner after his 335 not out against Pakistan.Credit:Getty Images.

The stakes are higher. If Australia win the series, they will replace New Zealand in second place in the rankings. On the Test championship table, a different scale, they are second already, giving the Kiwis something to chase.

These are the makings of a fiercely contested series. The Kiwis have arrived in their usual way without fanfare, but quietly convinced that this is their moment to seize.

Perhaps it is. But it was last time under Brendon McCullum, and it amounted to little.

Then, the urgency was on their own behalf. Since, the Test competition has contracted. Internally riven South Africa and Sri Lanka are fading away, Pakistan remains homeless and the West Indies top a kind of unofficial second division.

It means the Test format, like netball, bottoms out at four teams. It means the Kiwis are here as the major tourists, playing on the MCG for the first time for nearly a quarter of a century and the SCG for only the third time. For the vitality of the game as well as their own sake, they need to measure up to billing and expectations.

So c’mon New Zealand, a bit.

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