New Zealand vs Australia | Thursday 11 Feb – Monday 15 Feb | Basin Reserve | 23:00
Following their successful retention of the Hadlee-Chappell Trophy, New Zealand will be looking to claim the honours in the upcoming two-match Test series.
Can a relatively raw Australian side salvage national pride in the longest format of the game or will the fearless New Zealanders claim their first Test series win against the Aussies since the 1989/90 season?
To Win Match
New Zealand 16/10
The last time New Zealand were able to record a series victory against Australia was in March 1990, when the likes of Sir Richard Hadlee, Steve Waugh, Ian Healy and Alan Border were still plying their trade on the world stage. Since then, however, the following 11 series ended in three draws and eight Australian wins.
There is perhaps no better chance for New Zealand to record only their second ever series of their Trans-Tasman rivals. They possess a wealth of talent throughout their squad with the likes of Brendon McCullum, Kane Williamson, Martin Guptill, Trent Boult and Tim Southee capable of walking into just about any Test set-up in the world.
The subplot to this series will see McCullum – a stalwart of New Zealand cricket for more than a decade – play his last two games for his country. He will be desperately keen to hand over the reins to Williamson on a winning note. The first Test at of the series at the Westpac Stadium will also see him adorned in his whites for the 100th time at international level.
He will form part of one of the best top orders in Test cricket at the moment along with Guptill, Tom Latham and Williamson. While much will depend on these four, I’m of the opinion that if New Zealand are to leave the Westpac Stadium with a win come Monday, they will need their bowlers – more specifically Boult and Southee to take full advantage of the swing-friendly conditions at the Basin Reserve.
Boult is probably one of the best proponents of swing bowling in the world at the moment behind perhaps only Dale Steyn. He will relish the chance to bowl to bowl on the greenest of decks come tomorrow. Southee’s ability to generate late outswing at decent pace makes him one of the best attacking quicks on the Test scene at the minute, and when you factor in guys Doug Bracewell, Matt Henry and the off-spin talent of Mark Craig; the Black Caps have more than enough firepower in their Arsenal to make life uncomfortable for the Aussies in what for them will be alien conditions.
I really like the look of this New Zealand side – their top and middle order look more than capable and their bowling attack will relish the opportunity to bowl on a green wicket at the Basin Reserve.
The Australians have perhaps somewhat surprisingly gone into this series with a rather green-looking side. While their top and middle order looks settled enough, their bowling attack will come under the microscope in the next two Tests.
To be frank, if Australia’s top four fire in this series, I see absolutely no conceivable way for the Black Caps to claim their first Test series against their Trans-Tasman rivals in nearly 16 years. Joe Burns, David Warner, Usman Khawaja and Steve Smith were largely responsible for dismantling the Kiwis the last time the two sides met late last year.
Warner in particular loves playing against the New Zealanders. In just five matches against the Black Caps, he’s amassed 745 runs at a remarkable average of 93.12. Warner’s belligerence at the top of the order will be key in Australia’s quest to dictate terms to their neighbours. He will be joined at the top of the order by the more measured Joe Burns. The Queenslander is more of an accumulator who’s happy enough to rotate the strike and punish the odd bad ball while Warner plays with his unique brand of measured abandon. This fire and ice combination at the top of the Aussie batting order makes them one of the most dangerous teams on the Test circuit at the minute.
Dislodge those two and you’ll have to deal with Smith and Khawaja who are both in excellent form at the moment. Khawaja especially has been sensational over the last few months in all formats of the game. Following his excellent performance with the bat against New Zealand last year, he further underlined his credentials by destroying every single bowling attack he faced in the fifth edition of the KFC Big Bash on his way to winning the competition with the Sydney Thunder. He also looked in good touch against Australia in the recently-concluded Chappell-Hadlee Trophy with scores of 50 and 44 in the matches he played in.
The last time the two sides met, the Australians could call on the likes of Mitchell Starc and Mitchell Johnson to open to bowling. With Starc out injured and Johnson retired, a lot of responsibility is going to fall on the shoulders of Josh Hazlewood, James Pattinson and Peter Siddle. Chadd Sayers may also get be in line for a Test debut. The right-arm quick has shown a bit of promise in the Sheffield Shield of late and has earned a call-up to the national side. I don’t think he’ll get a game, however, the experience he gains from being within the set-up may stand him in good stead in the future.
One of the more interesting stats leading into this Test: not one of the current Australian squad have ever played a Test in New Zealand. Seeing how they come to terms with conditions will quite interesting.
The Venue: The Basin Reserve
Reports coming out of Wellington suggest that the deck prepared for first Test is as green as anything you’re likely to see on the Test circuit. It’s a throwback to Kingsmead wickets of yesteryear which were responsible for the stadium gaining the nickname, the green mamba.
While the playing surface may be difficult to play in the first two days, the Basin Reserve deck typically flattens out to make batting easier toward the latter stages of play. Winning the toss will be massively important tomorrow, and I have little doubt that whoever calls correct in the air will likely bowl first.
Verdict: Australia 13/10
It would take a very brave punter to bet against the Australian top four. Warner, Burns, Smith and Khawaja can effectively end the match as a contest on day one if they hit their straps. New Zealand look a settled unit, however, I just don’t see them getting one over the best top order in Test cricket at the moment. Back the Aussies in what's sure to be a humdinger of a clash at 13/10.