There are easy starts, tough starts, and then there’s the start Kirk McKenzie has had to his career.
Across his first two Tests, the 23-year-old has faced 12 bowlers and half of them have been Mitchell Starc, Pat Cummins, Josh Hazlewood, Nathan Lyon, Ravichandran Ashwin and Ravindra Jadeja — some of the finest Test cricket has ever seen.
Facing these bowlers in back-to-back Tests is a brutal challenge for even the most established batters in the world, let alone a rookie making his way into international cricket.
But three innings into his career, if there’s one thing we’ve learnt about Mckenzie the batter, it is that he doesn't get overawed by the occasion.
We saw glimpses of that in the bright 32 he scored against India in his first-ever Test innings, and the same got reaffirmed today in Adelaide, where he proved to be the pick of the West Indian batters on what was a tough day for the visitors.
Ahead of the Test, there was plenty of focus on the two batting debutants Kevam Hodge and Justin Greaves, but in truth, West Indies were effectively fielding an entirely ‘new’ batting line-up, with Alick Athanaze and McKenzie entering the contest with a grand total of three Tests between them.
On the day, among the four, 23-year-old McKenzie proved to be the standout, becoming only the fifth West Indies No.3 batter this century to post a fifty-plus score in a Test in Australia.
After being sent in to bat on a pretty decent Adelaide Oval wicket, West Indies lost both their openers rather cheaply: Tagenarine Chanderpaul first and then the big fish, Kraigg Brathwaite. 27/2 is not a disastrous score by any means, but with four inexperienced batters to follow, Australia certainly sensed blood.
But McKenzie, playing just his second Test, showed excellent resistance and gave a great account of himself, so much so that he received a very warm applause from the Adelaide crowd the moment he brought up his fifty.
In testing conditions, the left-hander was put through a trial by fire, and he did not have it easy. At all.
He rode his luck: he could easily have nicked one off Starc up-front, came close to nicking multiple Hazlewood deliveries, and also nearly got cleaned up by Cummins immediately post-lunch, from ‘round the wicket.
But he dug in, showed he was up for a fight and eventually stitched together a very courageous, admirable innings.
The 101 of Test batting, especially when you’re sent into bat on the first day, is that you respect the good balls and give the bowlers their due when they’re on the money but make them pay when they err.
Bad balls from the Australian seamers today were few and far between, but McKenzie made them pay whenever they erred. Anything that was overpitched or was short and wide, was punished. And by doing this, he kept the scoreboard and his own score ticking.
McKenzie did not have the opportunity to showcase the flashy side of his batting too much today, but the youngster did show glimpses of what he possesses in his arsenal.
Like how he took India aback on his debut by smoking Ashwin for a mighty six, today he found himself in a nice mini-battle with Nathan Lyon and deposited the off-spinner twice down the ground to collect boundaries. McKenzie, truth be told, won that battle against Lyon, who tried his best to out-fox the left-hander.
Then there was that Kyle Mayer-esque square cut off Josh Hazlewood, which zipped past the point fielder and pierced the gap perfectly. It was one of those shots that had that glorious Caribbean flair to it.
He eventually departed a while after lunch to the best bowler of the day (Hazlewood), but not before earning a huge deal of respect.
This series was always going to be about the ‘positives’ for West Indies. Two sessions into the tour, they’ve already got one, in the form of McKenzie.
No fifty? No problem — Gazza is GOATing it with both bat and ball
Smith puts Australia on course to a 2-0 whitewash against Windies
Hazlewood’s perfect spell puts Australia on the brink of victory
Shamar Joseph’s stupendous spell spoils Australia’s party late on Day 1
Josh Hazlewood becomes 11th Australian to pick 250 Test wickets
Wiser, sharper and quick-witted: how Lyon sparked a fire in BGT '23
A short day with potentially big implications
Australia plagued by familiar issues in energy-sapping day dominated by England
New captain, new era, but Australia encounter same old England