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New Zealand v Australia 2024

New Zealand’s latest little brother humbling says more about them than Australia

Tim Southee and Pat Cummins after Australia's Test win in Hagley
by Katya Witney 5 minute read

Theoretically, Australia’s trip to New Zealand should have presented the Black Caps the perfect chance to right the wrongs of their recent record against their trans-Tasman rivals.

Two of the three sides who’ve dominated the Test match landscape over the last four years, the only two to have won the World Test Championship trophy, with more than enough local enmity to inject an added layer of tension into the series. Australia also hadn’t visited New Zealand with their Test whites in their luggage since 2016, the promise of a rare visit from their trans-Tasman ‘bigger brother’ only further whetted the appetite.

But, a mix of coincidental and entrenched issues mean the series instead proved to be largely one-sided, and another which will fade into vague memories of a lukewarm rivalry between the two sides.

From the series itself, a couple of moments adequately summarise the differences between the two sides. The first came on Day Two when a moment of misfortune subjected Kane Williamson to his first run out in a Test match for 12 years. Coming into the series, Williamson had been on a golden run up there with some of the best extended periods of form on record. Seven of his last 12 Test innings had resulted in centuries, including three of the four he played in the weeks leading up to the series. Over the previous year of Test cricket, his average was a staggering 92.27, with six of his centuries scored on home soil.

Having come to the crease at 12-1, Williamson looked to get off the mark with a quick single. A punch down the ground drew a cry of ‘wait on’ from Will Young at the non-striker’s end, but Williamson still rushed down the pitch. With Young’s eyes distracted by Marnus Labuschagne swooping in to gather the ball and throw at the stumps, he set off barely looking at where Williamson was. As both tried to avoid each other and Mitchell Starc at the side of the wicket, they ended up in a mid-pitch grapple. Williamson came off worse for wear, his bat knocked out of his hand and his momentum completely halted. He was still a third of a pitch short of his ground as Labuschagne’s direct hit shattered the stumps.

It took an age for Williamson to drag himself off the pitch for a duck, periodically checking over his shoulder in the vague hope of Australia withdrawing the appeal. Twelve overs later, New Zealand were 29-5, their hopes of getting anywhere close to Australia’s first innings total already extinguished.


Williamson was the only batter in New Zealand’s lineup with experience of beating Australia in a Test match. In 2011, a seven-run victory by a side led by Brendon McCullum marked the last time New Zealand emerged as victors from the clash. That was an Australia side who had won five of their last 15 Tests and were bowled out for 47 in Cape Town fewer than two months before. At their lowest, a six-wicket spell from Doug Bracewell was enough to undo them, and even then, only eight Test matches have been lost by smaller margins.

In over a decade since then, Australia and New Zealand have played each other in Test matches just 10 times. Australia played England as much within seven months during that period, between 2013 and 2014.

Six of the last nine series between the two sides have been two-match series. New Zealand haven’t hosted Australia for more than two Tests since 2005. While the World Test Championship has attempted to give these series more relevance, there’s only so much it can achieve. With so many two-match series between the two, there’s a permanent air that the story is unfinished, or not able to develop far below surface level. Nevertheless, the last time New Zealand visited Australia for three matches in 2019/20, they lost every match by more than 200 runs (the only series they lost in the 2019-21 WTC).

Gone are the days when their one-sided rivalry with Australia could be put down to deeper historic roots in the game or a far-superior talent pool. The side that lifted the World Test Championship mace in Southampton in 2021 was packed with generational talents who can count themselves among New Zealand’s best-ever. Williamson and Ross Taylor in the middle order are New Zealand’s top two leading Test run-scorers, while three of their top five wicket-takers of all time made up three quarters of their pace attack (Boult, Southee, Wagner).

That win in Southampton was greeted with a near-universal warmth for the ‘good guys’ of cricket. Years of ‘punching above their weight’ had finally ended in silverware following the heartbreak of Lord’s two years earlier. A group of exceptional players who had bridged the gap between New Zealand and the ‘big guns’ had been justly rewarded. But, since then, New Zealand’s status in the game has subtly changed.

While the retirement of several stalwarts and Trent Boult’s quasi-Test retirement marked the beginning of the break up of that side, new players have emerged to sustain New Zealand’s competitiveness. Devon Conway had played just two Tests before the 2021 WTC final, and Daryl Mitchell didn’t make the XI in Southampton. Rachin Ravindra’s cross-over into the red-ball format has so far brought success. But, the aura New Zealand had around them by 2021 is no longer there.

Excluding matches against Australia, between the beginning of 2017 and the 2021 WTC final, New Zealand only lost three of the 28 Test matches they played. Since then, they’ve lost 10 out of 22 and only secured two series wins, both against significantly inferior opposition on home soil. In comparison, excluding their wins against New Zealand, Australia won 16 of the 35 matches they played between the beginning of 2017 and the end of the 2021 WTC cycle, losing 13. Since then, they only lost six of the 30 they played before the most recent series.


Results aren’t the only factor that indicate a change in New Zealand’s status. Neil Wagner’s contentious retirement before the start of the Australia series left a bad taste. A tearful press conference from one of the best, most well-regarded New Zealand has to offer on and off the pitch, in which he made clear his retirement was not entirely his decision struck an odd note for a New Zealand side consistently praised for playing the game in the right way. As did the fall-out. Ross Taylor’s assertion in the media that Wagner was indeed forced to retire and a bite-back from Williamson was an unusual sequence of events, capped off with Tim Southee refusing to rule out asking Wagner to un-retire days after his farewell press conference.

It’s not like New Zealand’s seam stocks are full enough to justify Wagner’s exclusion. Kyle Jamieson is set for a year out of cricket after suffering another stress fracture in the Test series against South Africa. It’s unlikely Boult will ever play Test cricket again. It’s true Wagner’s returns haven’t been what they were pre-2021 – he’s taken 13 wickets in four games since January 2023 at 40.3 – and Will O’Rourke and Ben Sears both came in and impressed. But that the latter came in after the former was injured highlights the benefits of Wagner’s near-constant availability. The selection of Scott Kuggeleijn, while also unwelcome for other reasons, speaks to a lack of depth. He took two wickets across both Australia Tests and only bowled three overs in Australia’s final innings. The last of those, a maiden that cost 10 runs as an ill-executed ‘Bodyline’ attack fell flat, demonstrated how hard the job Wagner used to do is.

These issues aside, there were holes New Zealand would have hoped to exploit in Australia coming into the series. Despite lifting the World Test Championship mace last year, and only having lost one Test series since the 2021/22 Ashes, Australia’s home summer wasn’t as dominant as they might have hoped. A draw to a depleted West Indies side was a disappointment, and three wins over a Pakistan side emerging from a chaotic few months should have been par for the course. Nevertheless, there were points in that series where they were pushed. All of that coming off the back of a 2-2 draw in the Ashes in which they were 2-0 up after two.

On an individual level, Steve Smith’s transition to opening the batting hasn’t been smooth. Marnus Labuschagne’s season has seen his Test average finally drop below 50, and Mitchell Starc is arguably at the end of one of his worst home summers on record. But nevertheless, chasing 200 on the final day with the top four already back in the dressing room, 98* from Alex Carey and a final punch through point from Pat Cummins saw them to what turned out to be a series-sealing win.

In the end, another series whitewash to Australia says more about New Zealand than it does anything else. And, with every tepid series the loss to the game of what should be one of its most enthralling rivalries grows more disappointing.

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