THE BUILD-UP to this game had been dominated by the sight of batsmen suffering in the public spotlight.
First there was Cameron Bancroft, who admitted at a press conference in Perth that “I lied about the sandpaper”, words that seem comically preposterous when taken out of their sombre context.
Then there was Steve Smith, who broke down in tears at his own press conference at Sydney airport, where David Warner later side-stepped questions with the words “you will hear from me in a few days”, ones which suggest that ‘The Reverend’ – as he is ironically called – is preparing a different type of Easter message.
Finally, there was Darren Lehmann, who, 24 hours after insisting in Johannesburg that he would not be resigning as Australia coach in the wake of the ball-tampering scandal, told reporters that the lachrymose performance of Smith and Bancroft had changed his mind.
“After viewing Steve and Cameron’s hurting, it’s only fair that I make this decision,” said the equally tearful former Yorkshire batsman, who conceded that he was “ultimately responsible for the culture of the team”.
Yes, enough batsmen suffering in the public spotlight there to last a lifetime.
But England, the gift that keeps on giving whether it be Easter, Christmas, or any day it seems, looked in no mood to let the suffering end there on day one of the second Test against New Zealand in Christchurch.
Soon, we were recoiling in our seats not just at the pitiful sights of the aforementioned Australians, but also at the ongoing miseries of such as Alastair Cook, Mark Stoneman and James Vince, who seemingly cannot buy a score for all the sandpaper in Christendom.
Cook made two, his third single-figure innings in succession, bowled down the wrong line to extend a wretched sequence that reads two half-centuries in 20 Test innings, one tempered only by the fact that both of those half-centuries became double centuries.
Vince made 18, flattering to deceive again as he played some fine shots before falling lbw trying to work across the line. Vince has managed only two half-centuries in 21 innings, his Test career presumably over unless he makes a significant score in the second innings.
Practically the only question mark against Joe Root is whether he can convert more of his half-centuries into hundreds.Chris Waters
Mark Stoneman has managed three half-centuries this winter, but, like Vince, averages in the 20s. He reached 35 yesterday before edging to second slip, ensuring that serious question marks remain against each of England’s top-three batsmen.
Practically the only question mark against Joe Root is whether he can convert more of his half-centuries into hundreds. The Yorkshireman gets to fifty so often that he could almost raise his bat before facing a ball, but his dismissal yesterday, bowled on the drive, triggered a slump of 3-1 in nine deliveries as Dawid Malan was pinned lbw first ball followed by Stoneman’s dismissal. After Ben Stokes was strangled and Stuart Broad caught chipping to mid-off, England were reeling on 164-7.
Step forward Jonny Bairstow, whose unbeaten 97 took the tourists to 290-8 at stumps, the Yorkshireman adding 95 for the eighth wicket with Mark Wood, who registered a maiden Test half-century before being bowled on the drive, debutant Jack Leach then ending the day unbeaten on 10.
Bairstow, who faced 154 balls and hit 11 fours and a six, is in purple form, having finished the recent one-day series with back-to-back hundreds, the last of them also at Christchurch.
He is too good to be batting at No 7 but almost a guarantee of runs in any position; he left the field eying a fifth Test century.
Earlier in the day, in his national newspaper column, Bairstow had his say on the ball-tampering affair and described what is happening with the Australian team as “truly extraordinary”.
That same newspaper reported that Andrew Strauss, the England director of cricket, has banned England’s players from talking in detail about the episode, and Bairstow only commented in the most general terms.
In words that will be endorsed worldwide, he said: “What has happened is not good for the integrity of the game and we all have responsibility as international cricketers to ensure the game is played in the right spirit.
“You go out onto the playing field every time to win and you will do all you can to do that, but not at all costs and especially not to cheat.”