Back then in the 1985-86 season, Sir Richard Hadlee’s inspired spell of bowling gave two triumphs in five-day fixtures to New Zealand on the Australian soil. The Kiwi’s third Test win down under had to wait for another 26 years, a cliffhanger in Hobart in 2011 they clung on to.
To sum up, the tourists only have eight Test wins out of 57 Tests against their neighbours, three of which have come in Australia. Fast forward to the present, the inaugural match in Perth with the pink ball that nips and drifts sharply along with the bounce at the Optus Stadium flags paradise to the new-ball bowlers.
New Zealand arrive with a pace attack that can wreak havoc when given these conditions. Except that they also have to prepare themselves for the scorching 40 degrees Celcius that is looming in Perth. The tourists do have a balanced pace attack. However, their blind spots are their bowling averages down under in the past. Trent Boult averages 33.47 in Australia while his career average is 27.74.
Tim Southee‘s career average is 30.01 while his average on the Australian shores is 50.68. Matt Henry takes a wicket every 48 runs in his career that goes up to every 79 runs in Australia. The likes of Colin de Grandhomme and Neil Wagner haven’t played a five-day affair in Australia. But this pace attack has extracted wickets out of lifeless decks and it would be interesting how they go when the ball gets old.
On the batting front, the BlackCaps possess the trust of Tom Latham at the top of the order, calmness and determination of Kane Williamson and Ross Taylor plus the versatility of the rest of the batters in the line-up. To summarize, New Zealand come in with a great chance to defy history, despite history not being on their side.
If this were a year ago or so, Kane Williamson’s men would have been clear favourites. They should still approach this series with a greater sense of confidence and self-belief on the backdrop of their superior ranking and a terrific outing in Tests in the past few months. They must keep the home side in check whether with the bat or ball since Australia are great front-runners.
On the other hand, the hosts do hold the upper hand of their own and the Trans-Tasman trophy currently. History is well on their side, they are riding high on confidence, and a big score due off Steve Smith’s bat signals that he could once again be the difference between the two sides. Head coach Justin Langer has also nearly confirmed that they likely wouldn’t tinker with the playing eleven that went on to hammer Pakistan previously.
Similar to the opposition, the Australian pacers must be equally prepared to toil in the sweltering heat in Perth. During the first innings of the second Test, when Yasir Shah alone held Australia at bay, they gave him and the batsman at the other end, a handful of reprieves. One sniff to even the Blackcaps’ lower order, they can put Tim Paine’s men at the sword and snatch a victory from that point.
The New Zealand camp still await the news regarding full fitness of Trent Boult and Colin de Grandhomme. Boult suffered a side strain while De Grandhomme sustained an abdominal tear and thus missed out on playing the second Test in Hamilton against the Englishmen. It was understood previously that the duo has been making good progress and thus were cleared to travel to Australia.
Ross Taylor also suffered a blow to his thumb during net practice before getting cleared of any serious injury. In the absence of the left-arm speedster, uncapped pacer Lockie Ferguson might likely come under consideration due to his searing pace. While all-rounder Daryl Mitchell could feature instead of De Grandhomme. Barring the duo, the visitors are likely to stick with their first-choice eleven.
Predicted XI: 1. Tom Latham, 2. Jeet Raval, 3. Kane Williamson (capt), 4. Ross Taylor, 5. Henry Nicholls, 6. BJ Watling (wk), 7. Colin de Grandhomme/Daryl Mitchell, 8. Mitchell Santner, 9. Tim Southee, 10. Trent Boult/Lockie Ferguson 11 Neil Wagner.
Australia’s head coach Justin Langer has strongly hinted that the Baggy Greens would go ahead with an unchanged eleven. Their top three piled on a mountain of runs against Pakistan but may face a tough challenge against the pace barrage of the Kiwis. The Australian pace attack, led by Pat Cummins, may also be up against the most stubborn batting line-up collectively across the formats so far in their summer.
Predicted XI: 1. David Warner, 2. Joe Burns, 3. Marnus Labuschagne, 4. Steven Smith, 5. Travis Head, 6. Matthew Wade, 7. Tim Paine (capt & wk), 8. Pat Cummins, 9. Mitchell Starc, 10. Nathan Lyon, 11. Josh Hazlewood
Focus will be on
Travis Head (AUS)
The selectors have placed plenty of faith on Travis Head. His most recent substantial score was of 51 that came against England in the second innings of the first Ashes Test in Birmingham. Since then, the southpaw’s highest knock in the next seven innings is 42. A strong show by the top three against Pakistan masked his failure to get a compelling score.
He got his only chance to bat in the first Test in which he could make only 24. In the likely circumstance that an opportunity comes knocking on his door to get the runs, the South Australian must make that count. A productive series for Head against the Kiwis would provide him with a considerable boost for the near future.
Jeet Raval (NZ)
It is no secret that to thrive in Australia, a team needs to have a reliable opening pair, capable of spending time in the middle and finding a suitable opening to free themselves from the shackles. While Tom Latham is making his bat do the talking, his partner Jeet Raval’s spot is under scrutiny. Former New Zealand opening batsman Mark Richardson called for the axe to wield on Raval and conceded to replace him with another opener.
The 31-year old needs a quick turnaround as he could manage only 24 runs in the previous two-Test series against England. Before that, Raval endured another dismal series, scoring 37 runs in two Tests against Sri Lanka. If his woeful run continues, the Kiwis could draft in Tom Blundell and promote Henry Nicholls to the opening spot.
Head to Head
Australia won: 31
New Zealand won: 8
53 – David Warner needs 53 runs to complete 7000 runs in Test cricket.
151 – Ross Taylor needs 151 runs to go past Stephen Fleming’s tally of 7172 runs. By breaching past the former New Zealand captain, Taylor would become the highest run-getter for his country in Tests. His current tally is 7022 runs from 96 Tests, and he may get there at some stage in the three-match series.
0 – New Zealand is the only opposition so far against whom Nathan Lyon doesn’t have a five-wicket haul in Tests. Australia’s most successful off-spinner in red-ball cricket has three fifers against Bangladesh, seven against India, two against England, and one each against Pakistan, South Africa, Sri Lanka, and West Indies.
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