After the fizzer that was the Australia vs Pakistan Test series, we could use a good series, and the Test series against second ranked New Zealand promises to be just that.
It was good in a lot of ways to have David Warner hit some incredible form, with a 150 and then an incredible 335 not out. Marnus Labuschagne got his first ever Test century, an incredible 180, and then following it up with another 150 in the very next test innings. It was also nice to see Joe Burns score 97 in his return to test cricket, but that’s about it. Poor old Travis Head didn’t even get to bat, or bowl, in the entire second Test, while it was all too easy for the bowlers. We need a challenge. And New Zealand promise to be just that.
On the 12th of December we head over to Perth, where Australia will be red-hot favourites to win on a bouncy pitch that New Zealand have often struggled to tame. Then on the 26th of December we head to the MCG, a better ground for New Zealand, but one that has just had the ignominy of hosting a Sheffield Shield match that was abandoned, and there is some chance that they may even move the test match. They probably won’t, as the MCG staff have more than two weeks to rectify the issue, but it is certainly a bit of a toss-up what is going to happen there, and is a less than ideal situation to be in. And then we finish in Sydney, which is another pitch that should be equally suited for both sides.
Indeed, even Perth isn’t exactly a guaranteed victory for Australia. New Zealand are adept at handling pace, and they have their own bowlers who can take advantage. Trent Boult is more than a handful, and was the joint leading wicket taker in the 2015 World Cup hosted in Australia, so surely knows and enjoys the conditions. Lockie Ferguson is yet to play a test but has some impressive numbers in other formats. Matt Henry’s test numbers are lacking but in other formats he is good, and then we’ve got the stalwart of Tim Southee. And let’s not forget that this is a very versatile New Zealand side, who are well-equipped to handle any conditions, with spin bowlers, all-rounders, the whole hog. Tom Latham is in some incredible form, Colin de Grandhomme is a great all-rounder, and then there are the two stalwarts of Ross Taylor and captain Kane Williamson.
Both Australia and New Zealand have recently had tough test battles against England, and both sides are on the up. If this was in New Zealand, it’d probably slightly favour New Zealand, but, by virtue of being in Australia, it is Australia who are the minor favourites.
The problem for Australia is that we burned up our best ground, the ‘Gabba, against Pakistan. We probably should have saved that ground for New Zealand and maybe used Hobart for Pakistan. It’s a bit late now, but it just makes it that much harder.
The question will be whether players like David Warner and to a lesser extent Joe Burns are actually in form or were just up against an underwhelming Pakistan attack. We can be perhaps more comfortable about the form of Marnus Labuschagne, but then Steve Smith struggled against Pakistan so we don’t know. Matthew Wade seems to be in form, but there were some question marks against England and against Pakistan he didn’t get much of a run. Then there’s Travis Head, dumped in the Ashes and then barely batted against Pakistan.
The bowling is good for Australia, so on that front we are very comfortable, though the slightest issue could spell trouble.
Do we go in with Nathan Lyon at Perth or do we play the extra pace bowler? Michael Neser was named in the 13, and Perth could be a good place for him to make his test debut, perhaps at the expense of Nathan Lyon, but maybe at the expense of Travis Head. James Pattinson could play too. Probably not both, though.
Australia should win, but it might be 2-1, as MCG worries me. New Zealand could win too, and, if we aren’t careful, it could easily be 0-3. But if we play sensibly and nothing terrible happens, we could easily win 3-0.
It looks like a great series, though.