But for Australia’s fans, the darkness overhead was of less consequence than the several bright spots they saw on the field, on a day when three debutants helped give Australia the edge over New Zealand.
Mitchell Starc swung the ball impressively and collected two wickets, James Pattinson also curved the ball in the air and picked up one, and David Warner snaffled a pair of catches to ensure all three men will remember their first day of Test cricket with fondness. By the close of play, New Zealand had steadied through Daniel Vettori and Dean Brownlie, whose stand had reached 80, but plenty more work was required.
When the players left the field shortly before the scheduled tea break – they didn’t get back on – New Zealand were 5 for 176, with Vettori on 45 and Brownlie on 32. Viewed as the result of a day when Ross Taylor had won the toss and chosen to bat, it was a disappointing outcome for New Zealand; but seen in the context of their early collapse, it was a solid fightback.
In the first over after lunch, the visitors stumbled to 5 for 96 when Jesse Ryder was caught at point by Warner when he failed to find the gap off Starc. The sixth wicket could easily have fallen soon afterwards as Brownlie was dropped twice on 3, first when Michael Clarke grassed a sitter at first slip off Peter Siddle, and then when Warner couldn’t cling on to a tough chance at point off Starc.
Playing against the country where he was born and raised, Brownlie had some nervous moments, leading edges landing safe and unconvincing shots played. But he hung in and slowly warmed into his routine, and by the end of the day he had played a couple of strong shots, including a powerful cut behind point for four off Starc.
Vettori played his natural game, compiling the runs at a reasonable pace without taking many risks, and the Australians needed a breakthrough to ensure their promising morning wasn’t wasted. The attack was as green as the baggy caps that were liberally dispensed on the first morning at the Gabba but by lunch they had put their team firmly on top.
Starc picked up the key wicket of Brendon McCullum and his fellow first-gamer James Pattinson removed the New Zealand captain Taylor to leave the visitors on 4 for 94 at lunch. It was a disappointing effort from New Zealand after they had chosen to bat on a cloudy Brisbane morning, all the more so because the openers McCullum and Martin Guptill had taken the score to 44 without loss.
But Siddle broke the opening stand and the offspinner Nathan Lyon, who had never bowled at the Gabba, also struck when given an early opportunity by Clarke. While the New Zealand batsmen had contributed to their own demises on a pitch a little on the slow side, conditions were not easy as there was some swing in the first session, exploited especially well by Starc.
Auditioning for a long-term role in the team in the absence of his fellow left-armer Mitchell Johnson, Starc showed an ability to consistently swing the ball in to the right-handers and it was that talent that troubled McCullum. Earlier McCullum had pounced on width outside off, striking three boundaries in the first over of the match as Pattinson struggled to find his line.
But against Starc, McCullum had no room and twice was cramped up awkwardly, including once when a bouncer straightened and struck him on the helmet. Starc moved around the wicket to McCullum and had him caught for 34 when his cut was snapped up at point by Warner.
Already Siddle had made a breakthrough when Guptill drove at a ball that moved away just a fraction and was caught behind for 13, and two wickets was a good start for Australia. There was more to come, though, with Kane Williamson struggling to move his feet against the offspin of Lyon, who was supported by the captain Clarke with a leg-slip who nearly came into play when Williamson tickled a ball fine.
Soon enough Williamson’s hesitance against the spin brought his downfall, his lunge forward resulting in an inside edge on to his leg that was snapped up at short leg for 19. Three wickets would have been a fine session for Australia but it became an even better one when Taylor handed Pattinson his maiden Test wicket.
Pattinson had been nervous early but on his return swung the ball impressively. However, it was a full and wide ball that accounted for Taylor (14), who tried for a powerful square drive only to see the ball rocket off his inside edge and back onto his stumps, a disappointing way for the captain to depart having chosen to bat in challenging conditions.
By the end of the truncated day, the team had recovered somewhat. But as has too often been the case in recent years, much responsibility would rest on Vettori, who must again fight off Australia’s enthusiastic attack on the second day.