December 26, 2019
Australia v New Zealand
Venue: MCG | Start: 10:30 (AEDT)
Australia – After a dominant win in Perth, attention turns to the cricketing calendar’s biggest test match where Justin Langer’s side can seal their fourth series victory of the summer. They’ll go in largely unchanged from the three tests thus far this summer, save for James Pattinson who returns in for the injured Josh Hazlewood. In front of his home crowd the Victorian quick, playing his first home test since 2015, may just light it up if given an opportunity to bowl on morning one on a heavily-discussed MCG wicket (see more below). In reality, little changes for the Aussies. So far this summer the top order have made big runs, backed up by a relentlessly consistent bowling attack that has choked both the New Zealand and Pakistan batting lineups.
Provided the wicket is not as lifeless as in recent years, which would bring the draw well into play, the Aussies go into Boxing Day as deserved warm favourites. While they showed some vulnerability to the short ball in Perth, it’s unlikely the MCG pitch will offer as much pace as the Perth deck, and equally likely the top order have ironed out the kinks in the lead-up to this test match. Like in Perth, look for the Aussies (should they win the toss) to bat first and bat big, allowing the four bowlers to continue their superb 2019.
New Zealand – Quite clearly, things needed to change after the first test, and the Black Caps have done exactly that. The dangerous Trent Boult will return in place of Lockie Ferguson while Jeet Raval, who Ricky Ponting described as ‘out of his depth’ against the Australian quicks, has been dropped for Tom Blundell in an openers straight-swap. While Blundell has shown potential in his short career, he has been thrown an enormous task on the biggest stage he’ll likely ever see, against an attack that has arguably morphed into the world’s best. Further, the young wicketkeeper-batsman is simply not an opener; Blundell bats at five for his domestic side and in his two tests for New Zealand has batted at eight. Nevertheless, there was a sense that Raval was a walking wicket and given the Kiwis had no other back-up, are throwing him a chance.
Boult will bring much-needed experience into the bowling lineup alongside good mate Tim Southee – who was excellent in the second innings in Perth – and the intimidating Neil Wagner. There’s a chance New Zealand could even play Matt Henry as a fourth seamer given Mitchell Santner’s ineffectiveness in the first test. Santner not only went wicketless at Optus Stadium but conceded over 3.5 runs an over. Whatever way they go, it’s clear much still rests on the shoulders of skipper Kane Williamson (34 and 14 in Perth) whose fortunes with the bat could shape this test match.
Betting Analysis – It’s the biggest question in Australian cricket and will have huge ramifications for this test match: just how will the volatile MCG wicket play? The 22-yard strip’s chequered history – especially in the last two years – has seen it move from a largely lifeless road to, in the most recent Shield clash, a batting hell hole. Given the pressure on the curator Matt Page to produce a fair wicket, it’s likely he’ll revert to conservatism. In saying that, few know what the pitch will throw up. Whatever the case, it’s still likely both skippers will look to bat first. For the Aussies, it’s difficult to look past Marnus Labuschagne in the individual markets such is his imperious form this summer. With the ball, look for Victorian firebrand James Pattinson to succeed on a deck he knows better than all 21 other players on the ground. For the visitors, Kane Williamson appears destined for a big one while Neil Wagner’s bouncer barrage – which the Aussies struggled with in Perth – could yet yield more success, especially if the pitch is flat.
Head to Head: Australia
Top Runs Scorer – Australia: Marnus Labuschagne
Most Wickets – Australia: James Pattinson
Top Runs Scorer – New Zealand: Kane Williamson
Most Wickets – New Zealand: Neil Wagner