But the Black Caps’ biggest thank you went to another who hailed from this side of the Tasman – Australian captain Michael Clarke. Perth-born Dean Brownlie (32 not out) was dropped by Clarke on three before sharing an unbroken 80-run stand with Daniel Vettori (45 not out) when bad light then rain ensured a premature end to the day.
“Some guys get lucky – I am sure if Dean gets a big score he will be pretty thankful for that missed opportunity,” Black Caps opener Brendon McCullum said. “Without that partnership we would be deep in trouble – they have put us back in the game.”
Still Clarke must be happy overall after Mitchell Starc (2-52 off 13) and fellow debutant quick James Pattinson (1-50 off 11) chimed into Australia’s least experienced attack since Merv Hughes, Bruce Reid and Chris Matthews ran out against England in 1986.
McCullum said a first innings total of 280 would be competitive on the bouncy Gabba deck – a total the Black Caps would have given up on after a disastrous opening session.
McCullum (34 off 51) gave the visitors a dream start, belting seven fours – including three off Pattinson in the first over of the match. So ferocious was McCullum’s attack that umpires were forced to change the misshapen ball after 10 overs. New Zealand cruised to 0-44 in the 11th over – only to be 4-94 by lunch after being made to pay for their aggression.
Starc was first to break his Test wicket duck when he claimed McCullum wildly cutting before Pattinson had captain Ross Taylor (14) chopping on. Starc was high-fiving again when beefy batsman Jesse Ryder (six) thrashed him straight to point on the last ball of the first over after lunch to make it 5-96.
Chosen ahead of local hero Ben Cutting, Starc received his baggy green cap and words of support from the former Australian captain and leg-spinning great before taking first-day honours at the Gabba.
The 196cm beanpole utilised the extra bounce and pace of the Brisbane wicket to dismiss New Zealand danger men Brendon McCullum and Jesse Ryder and put the home side in the box seat.
“It’s a day I’ll never forget,” a beaming Starc said after play. “Just to get that baggy green is a pretty proud moment for me, and to get a couple of wickets as well was fantastic.
“I bowled a few better balls and didn’t get wickets but I’m not going to give them back either.”
Taking the left-arm role of injured Mitchell Johnson, Starc’s debut came alongside NSW teammate David Warner and fellow 21-year-old quick James Pattinson, taking the number of baggy greens handed out in 2011 to nine.
While Michael Slater gave opener Warner his cap and Andy Bichel presented Victorian Pattinson with his, it was Starc who had the privilege of receiving one from Benaud.
“It was obviously a special moment for me and I won’t forget that moment for the rest of my life,” he said. “He just said a few things, that the last few years he’d been watching me.”
Pattinson’s selection over Cutting ensured he and his brother Darren – who represented England in 2008 – became the first siblings to play Test cricket for different nations in 112 years.