Thursday December 12, 2019
Australia v New Zealand
Venue: Optus Stadium | Start: 4:00pm (AEDT)
Australia – To some extent, it feels like Australia’s test summer begins now. With back-to-back innings victories against Pakistan, the home side were in cruise-control for the start of their 2019/20 red ball campaign, rarely tested against a side who were at no stage truly in the contest. David Warner and Marnus Labuschagne plundered runs in batting-friendly conditions, while the bowlers were predictably and ruthlessly consistent. But now the task turns to the world’s number two side. Unlike Pakistan, New Zealand won’t turn over. They won’t throw their wickets away with rash strokes, and won’t concede a run-rate in excess of four runs an over. The Black Caps have made a habit of remaining in the contest for as long as possible, an admirable trait that means even when they’re beaten, it’s rarely by a big margin.
The Aussies will likely go into Perth unchanged – a rare luxury given the state of Australian cricket for much of the last two years. The bowlers pick themselves, especially after Mitchell Starc’s strong performances against Pakistan – while those with questions hanging over their head in the top six (namely Joe Burns and Travis Head) either answered their critics or weren’t given the chance to show their wares either way.
New Zealand – The Black Caps make their first (test) journey across the ditch since 2015 in arguably better shape than they’ve ever been. Having lost just one test series in the last ten, some are even calling this the best Kiwi side ever. Whether they can replicate the Richard Hadlee-inspired team’s victory in 1985/86 however is something altogether different. That win sent them home heroes, and remains one of New Zealand cricket’s crowning achievements. Skipper Kane Williamson knows they’ll hardly get a better chance of doing so again.
But the side is not without questions. Jeet Raval’s recent woes at the top of the order leaves him at the mercy of Australia’s fast bowling cartel. There, too, remains a question of whether the bowling trio of Trent Boult, Tim Southee and Neil Wagner possess the zip required to succeed on Australian shores. Perhaps then they’ll look to the comparatively sharper Lockie Ferguson or even Matt Henry in Perth – a decision they might be forced into should Boult not prove his fitness before then. Further, Mitchell Santner’s ability to take wickets when the Kookaburra softens also remains a question. But on the whole, the fighting spirit of this Black Caps side will ensure these tests – unlike the recently concluded blowouts – will be tight affairs. We haven’t gone to the New Year’s test at the SCG with both sides equal in the series since way back in 2004. Could this be the year we do so again?
Betting Analysis – The Perth drop-in pitch is likely to provide some spice, if last year’s test against India is anything to go by. With the mercury hovering around 40 degrees for the first four days, players will be thanking their lucky stars this is a day-night test. But given the 1pm local start time, the first two sessions will still mostly be under the baking hot sun. As a result, both sides will almost certainly look to bat first and extract as much energy from their opponent in the field as possible. For the individual betting markets, Marnus Labuschagne’s decidedly confident, compact start to the test summer makes him a strong option for the home side’s top runscorer. Should the ball nip around under lights, his recent Ashes performances show he’s well equipped to suppress the threat. With the ball, Pat Cummins’ proven ability in tough, hot conditions (see India tour of 2017) see him a strong shout as the Aussies top wicket taker. For the tourists, skipper Williamson is the obvious (and shortest-priced) option with the bat, but consider the experienced Ross Taylor who, you’ll remember, peeled off 290 against the Aussies in Perth in 2015 (albeit at the WACA). With the ball, Neil Wagner’s recent form (13 wickets in last three test innings) and ability under fatigue makes him a strong choice in the wickets column.
Head to Head: Australia
Top Runs Scorer – Australia: Marnus Labuschagne
Most Wickets – Australia: Pat Cummins
Top Runs Scorer – New Zealand: Ross Taylor
Most Wickets – New Zealand: Neil Wagner