Aus v NZ preview

On paper this ought to be a one sided series. New Zealand have played varying degrees of poor cricket for years now and barely beat Zimbabwe. Meantime Australia are historically a pretty strong side. The recent contests haven’t been worth watching; New Zealand haven’t won a Test in Oz in 26 years. The fact that it may be any sort of a contest this year is a mark both of how far the Aussies have fallen and the extent to which injuries have taken their toll.

A lot of the build up to this series has focused on the Australian injury crisis, with five players pulling out before the first Test. The speculation about the replacements was curtailed, however, when the selectors named a squad of only 12. Peter Siddle was named leader of the attack, though since he is the only one of the pacemen to have ever played in a Test match he was rather the obvious choice. Nathan Lyon will probably also play (though Clarke said that if the wicket looked juicy he would be willing to play four quicks) meaning that one of James Pattinson, Mitchell Starc or Ben Cutting will probably be carrying the drinks at the Gabba. It will also mean that Chris Martin will have twice as many career wickets as the entire Australian attack combined.

There are still question marks about Australia’s batting as well. In the absence of Shane Watson, David Warner will open with Phil Hughes. Warner is in form, but unproven in first class cricket and Hughes is a bit rubbish. The middle order of Clarke, Ponting, Khawaja and Hussey is also a bit suspect. Ponting managed to get some runs against SA and now he’ll have a pretty weak Kiwi attack against which he can boost his credentials for the series against a pretty weak Indian attack. Clarke scored an incredible 151 in his first innings against South Africa and then managed just 15 for the rest of the series. He struggled in the Ashes last year as well, so it’s hard to be sure how he will do. Khawaja is still yet to really get going internationally, but he did score important runs against South Africa. Hussey looks like the weakest link of the chain. He was under considerable pressure before the last Ashes and responded by scoring buckets of runs in the first three Tests (and very few in the next two). With the dearth of Test cricket played by Australia since then he hasn’t had many more questions asked about his place in the side, but he scored just 60 runs against South Africa with a top score of 39. Combined with the last two Ashes Tests, his last eight innings against high quality bowling have yielded just 113 runs. Admittedly he won’t be up against strong bowling during the Australian summer (NZ and India) but it must still be a worry for the Australian selectors. If he doesn’t excel against the Kiwis I think they ought to look very hard at him being the one to miss out when Watson returns from injury.

New Zealand look like they will play a very similar side to the one that scraped to victory in Zimbabwe. Jesse Ryder and Tim Southee will almost certainly come into the side and both are probably good additions. Ryder certainly is, he is a very powerful batsman. Southee is in for Jeetan Patel and is good in that he is a seamer replacing an unneeded second spinner, though he isn’t necessarily a better bowler. The Kiwis still don’t have a lot in the way of batting however; Ryder and the captain Ross Taylor are the only two who average over 40. Their only world class bowler is Vettori, though a case could also be made for Chris Martin. Bracewell looks a decent talent, but has only played against Zimbabwe. Southee is essentially a county bowler.

Australia are weak and have serious questions about most of their squad, but those questions are unlikely to be asked by New Zealand. For the Kiwis to make the series close they will need virtually all of their players to step up. Their batsman in particular need to put pressure on the inexperienced Australian attack. The Australian batsmen have the motivation of knowing that one of them will be dropped when Watson returns and should not have undue difficulty facing the Kiwi attack, though it will be interesting to see how Bracewell fares. If the Gabba track is as flat as it was last year I think the first Test will be drawn, though I doubt either side will score 517-1. I think some life in the pitch will help Australia more than New Zealand though. The last thing the Aussies want is for their debutant bowlers to toil for hours on a flat surface and return 0-100. With a bit of encouragement from the wicket they could put some real pressure on a fairly brittle Kiwi batting order. Ultimately I think there will be enough in the pitch and the Kiwis will be sufficiently ill-disciplined that Australia will win both Tests.

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