Blackcaps Test Championship: Bouncing Back

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Spark up that buckie in honour of Test cricket folks because we've had a couple doozies in recent days, heck even West Indies hosting India looks pretty fun. The Ashes is going strong, although there are more Test playing nations that those two and Aotearoa has fixed up an delightful come back to level their series against Sri Lanka. This puts Aotearoa in 2nd on the Test Championship ladder, albeit in alphabetical order as there doesn't appear to be any net run-rate numbers sussed yet.

India, Aotearoa and Sri Lanka have 60 points each. Australia and England have 32 points each as they are playing a five-Test series, which puts a lovely bubble of context around the Blackcaps effort in snaring a Test win. Finishing a series in Sri Lanka 0-1 or 0-2 would have been a prickly start to the Test Championship for Aotearoa and would have brought in an under-current of pressure to grab points in tougher conditions, against tougher opposition.

As for what we learned about the Blackcaps in this second Test and perhaps from the Test series overall, I'm not convinced there are any new wrinkles to explore. The loss in the first Test was a story we have seen before in how the Blackcaps can struggle (like most Test teams) in foreign conditions, especially when unable to get suitable preparation. It was a wee bit frustrating, however it felt more like a Test in which not a whole lot when in favour of the kiwis; a script that was flipped for the second Test.

The bounce back nature of the Blackcaps is impressive and everything Ross Taylor explained in his interview with The Cricket Monthly about this current Blackcaps group, was on display in the second Test. Suddenly Trent Boult and Tim Southee accounted for 11 of the 20 wickets that the Blackcaps took, chuck in the 2w Colin de Grandhomme took and the kiwi seamers took 13 of 20 wickets. Will Somerville and Ajaz Patel did their jobs in the second Test, continuing to impress; Somerville went through the gate of Kusal Mendis after he set up his innings (20 off 63 balls) in the second dig, while Patel also took a key wicket of Niroshan Dickwella after Dickwella churned through 161 deliveries to try save the Test.

Bringing in de Grandhomme for Mitchell Santner was an intriguing selection move. Santner hasn't offered the Test team a whole lot in terms of pure production (24.34avg bat, 39.08avg ball) and the alternative felt more like Todd Astle, than de Grandhomme. With the willow, de Grandhomme whacked 83 off 77 balls to finish as the only batsman in this series with a strike-rate over 100 and this low key gave the kiwis a strong sniff of a result. We as kiwis must remember though that de Grandhomme's schtick is to give it a whack and this will help the Blackcaps win Tests, while also being a bit annoying when the Blackcaps are fighting for a draw.

Should de Grandhomme add a defensive prowess to his game, he could be a key cog for the Blackcaps in this Test Championship. There is no evidence that de Grandhomme will do that though and a Test strike-rate of 90.20 is going to be a point of celebration as well as frustration for kiwi cricket fans. That volatility in de Grandhomme's batting could be off-set by what he offers with the ball and this flows into the entire Blackcaps bowling attack.

Whether it's de Grandhomme's stump to stump stuff, Southee's use of the crease to create angles or the flight and accuracy of the spinners, these kiwi bowlers attack the stumps. I don't need to highlight Boult in that bucket because he's all about that attacking vibe, but with Southee gaining some confidence and the inclusion of de Grandhomme, there are fewer opportunities to pounce on loose bowling. How that translates to different conditions will be an interesting narrative, but for this Test having a bowling attack - whether seam or spin - that zoned in on the stumps consistently was an asset.

I can feel a yarn about the contributions of the non-Williamson/Taylor batsmen simmering in my loins so I won't dive too deep into Tom Latham's 154 and BJ Watling's 105. Watling is one of the kiwi crew who pops up in the Test whites every so often and for him to sustain production given the limited opportunities is kinda bonkers. Then consider that Latham barely contributed to the Blackcaps World Cup campaign outside of scores of 57 and 47 vs England, the latter of which came in the final.

Thinking back to the World Cup, I hammered home the idea of adapting; adapt to conditions and opposition. The Blackcaps had the tools to adapt, whether it be through skill or personnel during that World Cup and this is what we have seen in Sri Lanka. The only way any team can be a dominant force in the Test Championship is to sustain a high level of play around the world, against all types of opposition.

What the Blackcaps have shown in Sri Lanka is a nice ability to tinker, with solid base skills that can wiggle through different conditions. Latham and Watling for example, are capable sweepers and seem to be the kiwi batsmen who thrive in spinning conditions. To get wins in spinning conditions, you might also need a point of difference and seam bowlers who know how to perform in such conditions; experience and skill in the Boult/Southee combo.

There are other wrinkles I could suggest, but the most encouraging aspect of this win was how the Blackcaps' ability to adapt and tinker was on show. The Blackaps just won a Test in which Williamson and Taylor combined for 43 runs, they drew a series in which Williamson scored a total of 24 runs. They did so through attacking instincts and solid skills that are applicable to a variety of circumstances. That's a solid foundation to build upon.

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Peace and love 27.