Australia and New Zealand – two nations who not only share borders but also share a riveting Test cricket rivalry. The first Test between the two sides took place in the year 1946 at the Basin Reserve in Wellington which Australia won by an innings and 103 runs. Since the 1985-86 season, the Trans-Tasman countries compete for the Trans-Tasman Trophy.
Sir Richard Hadlee played an instrumental role in the Kiwis lifting the inaugural Trans-Tasman trophy by finishing the series with 33 wickets in three Tests, including 15 wickets in the first Test in Brisbane. The series triumph (2-1) proved to be their only one down under till date. The only victory gained by New Zealand in this decade against Australia was at the Bellerive Oval in Hobart back in the 2011-12 season.
Even traditionally, Australia have overwhelmingly dominated the series. Out of the 17 sequences held so far, the Baggy Greens have won ten, including being the current holders of the crown. The BlackCaps have won three with the remaining four ending in a draw. The previous time the Kiwis regained the trophy was in the 1989-90 leg and managed to retain the same in the subsequent series in 1992-93.
The upcoming series would take place in Australia; however, their neighbours hold a slight edge this time as the higher-ranked side – New Zealand’s second against Australia’s fifth in the ICC Test rankings. The two teams have got eight players spread across the ICC Test rankings for bowlers and batsmen; hence, it should be a closely fought contest.
Ahead of the three-Test series commencing this week in Perth, we take a look at five players to watch out for:
A talented left-handed batsman, Travis Head received his first call-up to the Test team in the new-look Australian side which faced Pakistan in the UAE. Having made his limited-overs debut in early 2016, the ball-tampering saga that rocked the Australian cricket in 2018 opened the doors for him in Tests.
Head started off his Test career in the form of scoring a duck but bounced back to craft a patient half-century in the second innings that proved crucial in ensuring a draw for the tourists in the first Test in Dubai. In the following Tests against India at home, the southpaw had made starts; but could pass the score of fifty only in two out of seven innings.
He roared back with scores of 84, 161*, and 59* against Sri Lanka in the two-Test series that almost locked his berth for the Ashes. The South Australian again had a promising start against the Englishmen, having scored 35 and 51 in the first Test in the first Test. Post that, his highest score in the next six innings turned out to be 42*.
In the first Test against Pakistan, Head scored a breezy 24 off 29 balls before being caught behind. In this 14-Test career, the 25-year old has produced the spark on several occasions but not the much-required fire in most of his knocks. With just one century in 23 innings and no compelling score since the first Test in Ashes, Head would be eager to turn around his form before the home summer comes to an end.
It was in the year 2011 at the Gabba in Brisbane that James Pattinson demonstrated his potential by taking a five-wicket haul on debut against New Zealand. However, in the next five years, he went on to play only 14 Tests, constantly suffering from a back injury. The Victorian speedster forced his way back to the Aussie Test eleven for the first Ashes Test, three years after his last red-ball game on the backdrop of a good county cricket stint with Nottinghamshire.
He took only five wickets in two Tests in England; however, his commanding record at home meant that the 29-year was retained for the home series against Pakistan. Having remained in contention to play the first Test, Pattinson faced suspension from the same for dishing out a personal abuse on a player during a Sheffield Shield encounter against Queensland.
With Mitchell Starc, Pat Cummins, Josh Hazlewood operating exceptionally well, Pattinson is likely not to find a place in the eleven straight away. Nonetheless, the Aussies could unleash him in any of the remaining Tests, and the 29-year old would be equally keen to dominate the Kiwis all over again after his debut series.
Andrew Fidel Fernando of ESPN Cricinfo termed BJ Watling as the “New Zealand of New Zealand”. The BlackCaps are a team who hardly come under the spotlight despite their exquisite performances, especially in recent times. Their gloveman in the longest format, Bradley-John Watling, has a lot to do in “behind the scenes” for the success they have tasted in Test cricket.
Born in South Africa, BJ Watling developed as the best prospect among Gareth Hopkins, Kruger Van Wyk, and Reece Young. In recent times, Watling has bailed the Kiwis out of several predicaments with his confident yet pleasing strokeplay. He played a pivotal role in steering his side to a considerable lead by striking a double century that scripted an innings win in the first Test against England in their recently concluded series.
With an average of nearly 41, Watling could prove as a tough customer in the lower order for the Aussie bowlers to dislodge. Not only this, but his glovework behind the stumps is also proficient. Having known to adapt to the conditions quickly, the right-hander could give a real run for money to his counterpart, Tim Paine. He would also be anxious to improve his record down under, having averaged only 16.60 in their last tour.
The recently concluded series against Pakistan finally proved that Steve Smith is only a human. However, it came with a price as the former Australian captain slipped to number two, losing his number one Test ranking to Virat Kohli. Smith could manage only 40 runs across two Tests against Pakistan, having endured a rare series with no fifty-plus scores to his name.
Without any shadow of a doubt, the pace attack of the BlackCaps would challenge their batsman way higher than the Pakistan bowlers could. Under these circumstances, Smith would find himself performing a rescue mission at least once by playing a marathon inning to mark his return to Tests in Australia.
The New South Wales-born averages a daunting 67.88 in five Tests against New Zealand. The battle between Steve Smith and New Zealand’s pacers, especially the left-arm speedster Neil Wagner, who has troubled most of the batsmen in recent times, would be an intriguing one.
Two out of the fab four of this era in the batting front will collide against each other in the forthcoming Test series. But Kane Williamson is the man ranked slightly above to look forward to. About to feature in his third Test series in Australia, the Kiwi skipper has taken a massive stride since the first time he arrived down under to play red-ball cricket.
From 72 runs in two Tests in 2010-11 to 428 runs in three Tests in 2015-16, Williamson has hardened himself over the years for all the future challenges. It would be highly gripping to see how the number three batsman in the Test rankings would handle the searing pace of Starc, the precision of Hazlewood, and the diversity of Cummins. Slated to bat in the number three position, Williamson would likely have a considerable responsibility to guide the innings.
As a captain, the 29-year old possesses the mental strength to survive and subsequently thrive against any opposition. How Williamson, as the leader, manages to tackle the rampaging form of the Aussie top three along with the inevitable talk with Steve Smith’s bat at some part of the series is another battle to look forward to. A series victory here would make Williamson only the second Kiwi captain after Jeremy Coney in the 1985-86 season to record a series win down under.
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