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Three-dimensional Glenn Phillips’ stupendous spell lights up Wellington

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Last updated on 02 Mar 2024 | 03:08 AM
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Three-dimensional Glenn Phillips’ stupendous spell lights up Wellington

The 27-year-old has always been a serial competitor, but on Day 3, the Kiwi superman who can 'do it all' outdid himself

When New Zealand opted to pick four seamers on a considerably green-looking Wellington wicket a couple of days ago, they weren’t expecting the ball to turn square on Day 3. 

But an hour into the third day, the dry Wellington surface started behaving like a Day 5 subcontinent wicket, which meant that the Blackcaps had to turn to Glenn Phillips, who curiously did not bowl a single ball in the first innings.

Phillips has always been a serial competitor, but on Day 3, the Kiwi superman who can do it all outdid himself. 

In an extraordinary, unbroken 16-over spell, the 27-year-old bagged a five-fer for the first time in his seven-year-long first-class career to single-handedly drag his side back into the contest. Briefly, at least.

The signs were there on Day 2. In the first innings, New Zealand had sent down 108 overs of pace and only 7 overs of spin, which meant that it was not possible to gauge how much the wicket assisted spin.

But Australia brought Nathan Lyon into the attack as early as the 28th over, and he made the ball jump and turn sharply from ball one. And New Zealand found it hard to combat Lyon: he eventually finished with four wickets to his name despite only bowling 49 deliveries.

But then again, Lyon is Lyon. He’s done this all his career, wherein he makes the opposition spinners look silly by exclusively extracting juice off the surface.

So when Southee threw the ball to Phillips, not many were hopeful that the off-spinner would make the ball talk. Not least because he was a glorified part-timer in red-ball cricket, having bowled just over 500 overs in first class cricket across seven years. 

But Phillips went one better than Lyon to pick his maiden five-fer and become the first New Zealand spinner since Jeetan Patel in 2008 to take a five-wicket haul at home.

With the surface offering plentyyyy for spinners — by lunch the ball was spitting off the surface — the question was whether Phillips had the guile and control to make things happen and trouble the Aussie batters.

As it turned out, he did. 

On the day, Phillips was aided by the fact that he had three left-handers to bowl to: Usman Khawaja, Travis Head and Alex Carey. He accounted for the wickets of all three of them.

But it was the way he worked them over that was sublime. 

Having immaculate control over his length, Phillips kept throwing the ball out there, tempting the batters to go for the big hit. He was technically bowling, but Phillips vs the three Aussie left-handers was as much chess as it was cricket. 

And in the end, it was Phillips who won the game of chess, getting the better of all three left-handers.

He first worked over Khawaja and had him stumped. The whole time versus Phillips, Khawaja was looking for a release shot but it was not happening. He even attempted the reverse-sweep twice in an attempt to put off the off-spinner. But Phillips did not budge, and eventually won the battle after beating Khawaja in the air. The Queenslander ended up blinking first.

He found it tougher against Head, who had started off aggressively. Up-front against Head, twice Phillips dragged balls short, and twice he was dispatched to the boundary. But the off-spinner still kept coming back and kept dangling the carrot. An ill-advised slog eventually brought about the downfall of Head.

Getting Carey out was relatively easier. Phillips only needed three balls, as Carey fell right into the trap, slapping a full, wide one straight into the hands of Southee at short cover. It was poor batting from the wicket-keeper but the reckless hit was a byproduct of the pressure built across the past couple of hours by Phillips, who was getting the ball to do all sorts. 

3 of Phillips’ 5 victims were left-handers, but it goes without saying that it’s the dismissals of the two right-handers he’d have enjoyed the most. 

Like a classical off-spinner, he got both Mitchell Marsh and Cameron Green caught at bat-pad in Lyon-esque fashion. In a way, it was fitting that it was the wicket of Green, the best batter in the Test, that brought up Phillips’ maiden five-fer in Test cricket. Green, for the longest time, looked unflappable. It looked like only a magic ball could send him back to the pavilion. In the end, the magic ball ended up coming from the Blackcaps’ best bowler in the second innings.

Phillips, till now, has been known for his white-ball credentials, but the 27-year-old is starting to come into his own in Test cricket. After a breakthrough 2023 in which he averaged 60.33 with the bat and picked 8 wickets @ 16.37 with the ball, he’s begun 2024 in supreme fashion, with both bat and ball. 

Phillips has been a three-dimensional player all his career. He is now turning into a three-format three-dimensional player. 

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