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Insipid Black Caps take huge step backwards

Tim Southee is struggling with a back complaint ahead of the Perth Test. Photo: Getty

Tim Southee is struggling with a back complaint ahead of the Perth Test. Photo: Getty

New Zealand headed to Australia confident in the knowledge they had their best chance at an away series triumph over ‘big brother’ since the heyday of Sir Richard Hadlee and Martin Crowe three decades ago.

Perennial powerhouses Australia were taking their first tentative steps into a new era following the retirement of several high-profile stalwarts, while they were still smarting after a disastrous Ashes campaign in England.

Meanwhile, the Black Caps had attained rare international credibility, winning four and drawing three of their last seven Test series.

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Seven survivors from the rivals’ last clash – an epic New Zealand victory in Hobart in 2011 – was another indicator of their unprecedented continuity.

But the Kiwis’ insipid performance at the Gabba – where Hadlee famously took 15 wickets during that breakthrough 1985/86 success – was a soul-sapping return to their easybeat days, repeatedly bludgeoned with bat and ball over the past five days.

Brendon McCullum was the victim of a dreadful umpiring decision on Monday. Photo: Getty

Brendon McCullum was the victim of a dreadful umpiring decision on Monday. Photo: Getty

Most alarmingly, their vaunted bowling attack was mercilessly dismantled by a new-look Australian batting line-up.

The hosts scored 820 runs at 4.75 per over and lost just eight wickets – three of those to spinner Mark Craig, who was carted for 234 runs off 45 overs across Australia’s two innings.

Wicketkeeper Peter Nevill was not required to bat in either innings as Australia’s youthful top- and middle-order played like seasoned greats.

David Warner and Joe Burns – the latter making his first appearance as an opener – put on an astonishing 398 together, the fourth-highest tally for an opening pair in Test history.

The recalled Usman Khawaja blasted a maiden Test century and powered on to a game-high 174.

Tim Southee, easily the tourists’ best and most economical bowler, was ruled out of action on day two courtesy of a back injury, but blaming the extra workload for his teammates’ inability to provide any penetration would be a major cop-out.

Pace spearhead Trent Boult appeared underdone and went for almost eight an over in Australia’s second dig.

All-rounder Jimmy Neesham – who has already been ruled out of the remainder of the tour with a back complaint – looked like a part-timer at best, while Doug Bracewell toiled hard but never seemed likely to make a breakthrough.

Things were only marginally better with the bat.

Openers Tom Latham and Martin Guptill offered a bit of resistance, but when Ross Taylor, Brendon McCullum and Neesham made just nine runs between them – leaving shining light Kane Williamson to pick up the pieces alongside the tail – any chance of a decent first-innings reply evaporated.

There were brief glimpses of hope as New Zealand stared down the mammoth target of 504, but ultimately they lacked the concentration and fortitude to either survive a day in the middle or pull off a world-record chase.

Tim Southee is struggling with a back complaint ahead of the Perth Test. Photo: Getty

Tim Southee is struggling with a back complaint ahead of the Perth Test. Photo: Getty

The Black Caps produced just one partnership of 50-plus in their second innings of 295, all out before lunch on the final day.

Make no mistake: the 208-run loss flattered New Zealand, with an on-fire Australia categorically dominating almost every session.

For Kiwi fans attempting to extract some droplets of positivity from a bone-dry well after their Brisbane battering, there’s a few reasons to remain optimistic as the series moves on to Perth.

Williamson was magnificent, crafting a masterly 140 from 178 balls under all sorts of pressure in their first innings, while he was in great touch for 59 off 74 before falling to Nathan Lyon on day four.

McCullum’s aggressive, run-a-ball 80 was hopefully a sign of things to come for the skipper, while hapless spinner Craig produced swift rearguard knocks of 24 and 26 not out.

The Black Caps also have a recent history of bouncing back from heavy first-Test defeats quickly, fighting back to draw away series against Pakistan and England in the last year after being thumped in the opener.

They’re certainly not the only nation to cop it at the Gabba, either, with Australia unbeaten at the ground since 1988 in winning 20 of their last 27 Tests there.

But with injuries biting hard on an already struggling bowling contingent and a middle-order lacking form and staying power, it shapes as a long, arduous road back for the history-chasing New Zealanders at the WACA and Adelaide Oval.

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