Aus vs NZ: Battle at The Gabba

Australia, set to begin a new era under new captain Steve Smith, will face a strong New Zealand looking to capture their first series victory in Australia since 1990, when the two teams begin a three-Test series in Brisbane on Thursday.

Four victories, one loss and four draws in their last nine Test matches. New Zealand, under the captaincy of Brendon McCullum, have been in great form of late and will fancy their chances against a new-look Australian team.   -  K. R. Deepak

Will the next generation Australian Test team under the captaincy of Steve Smith be able to deliver against an in-form Black Caps?   -  Reuters

New Zealand take on Australia in the first Test at The Gabba in Brisbane as the battle for Trans-Tasman Trophy 2015-16 kicks off on November 5. The two teams last played a Test in 2011, with Australian James Pattinson wrecking havoc. However, things have been different for New Zealand since December 2013. The Black Caps have maintained a formidable record in Tests. Since England’s tour of 2012-13, New Zealand have played nine Tests, of which they have won four, lost one and drew four.

New Zealand have shown their aggression, silently, through their on-field activities in the past one year and it was quite visible when they defeated Australia in the group stages of the ICC World Cup 2015. They, however, lost the final to their neighbours.

The All Black inspiration

Eight months have passed since then, and New Zealand have only grown mightier. The Black Caps will take inspiration from the All Blacks’ Rugby World Cup win against the Wallabies just a week back. The Black Caps have drawn motivation from the All Blacks in recent times, especially the way the rugby team scripted a comeback after a forgetful 2007 Rugby World Cup. Since then, New Zealand have won back-to-back world championships and in the process became the first team to win three Rugby World Cup titles. Such feats will surely have a positive effect on the New Zealand cricketers too.

It is not unknown that Mike Hesson was in regular touch with All Blacks’ coach Steve Hansen during the 2015 World Cup. Few days back, Tim Southee acknowledged that the All Blacks’ win has been a timely motivation for his side. He said, “It was a great effort… They put in the hard work and they deserve whatever they get. We will be putting in the hard work to do what we can.”

Not so rosy for the Aussies

For hosts, Australia, it have been and will be a different story. Even though Australia have been the team to beat in the last two years at home, the current squad does not have the luxury of an experienced line-up. Australia heavily relied on their seniors from time to time and they repaid the trust and faith. However, there will be no Michael Clarke, Brad Haddin, Shane Watson, Chris Rogers and, more importantly, Ryan Harris for them.

The early signs of panic from the Australian side have been evident when chief selector Rod Marsh decided to not bring in uncapped players for the home series. Australia have the strength in batting, with the likes of captain Steven Smith and David Warner. Their bowling too is formidable with Mitchell Johnson and Mitchell Starc leading the attack. But the relative inexperience and inconsistency of the rest of the squad will be worrisome for the team management.

For Australia, a lot will depend on Smith’s captaincy. Australia will open with the Joe Burns and Warner. Usman Khawaja returns to the side, after two tough years, at number three. Smith, Adam Voges and Mitchell Marsh will form the middle-order with Peter Nevill taking over Haddin’s role full-time. Nathan Lyon leads the spin department while Josh Hazlewood completes the fast bowling line-up.

Siddle out, Hazlewood in

Despite performing divinely against England in the final Ashes Test at The Oval earlier this year, Siddle lost his place to Hazlewood, owing largely to the latter’s performance against India last year. Speaking about Hazlewood, Smith on Wednesday morning said, “I think we saw it last year against India, the way he could hit high on the bat and bring those keeper and slips into play I think this and the WACA will certainly suit him. He has come a long way. He has learnt a lot out of England and he bowled really well last week in the Shield game. He's in a good place and hopefully he can have similar results to what he had out here last year. Josh Hazlewood had a lot of success out here last year against India. I think he'll complement both the left-armers really well. There's going to be a bit of extra pace and bounce on this wicket, like we'd normally expect.”

No surprises for the Black Caps

For New Zealand, Martin Guptill will open the batting with Tom Latham. Over a period of time, Latham has proved valuable to the side. He is in fine form and scored 131 in the recent tour match against Prime Minister’s XI.

Kane Williamson and Ross Taylor will be the mainstays of the middle-order, with skipper McCullum coming in at number five. Batting all-rounder James Neesham is also expected to get a look-in.

B. J. Watling, who has been consistently performing well, will don the role of the wicketkeeper-batsman. Mark Craig will lead the spin bowling department for the Kiwis. Tim Southee and Trent Boult will be partnering Doug Bracewell, who replaces Matt Henry as the third pacer.

At the press conference on the eve of the Test, McCullum said, “They're both very similar bowlers. Matt Henry got an opportunity in England and did a pretty good job. The Test before we went to England, Doug Bracewell played and did a pretty good job for us as well. It's a bit of a coin toss with them but we were comfortable either way. In the end we had to make a decision and we thought Doug was bowling just a touch better at this point in time.”

Pad up for a fierce encounter

Known to produce some big totals, Gabba is a batsman’s paradise. However, Starc and Hazlewood can extract extra bounce from the pitch. Hazlewood, who picked up four wickets against India at the same venue last year, will be the key bowler for Australia. The pitch is likely to remain the same throughout and offer very little assistance to the spinners.

New Zealand will look to keep past records aside and aim to capture their first series victory in Australia since 1990. The hosts will look to start a new era under the leadership of Smith, as they head towards yet another transition phase.

For more updates, follow Sportstar on :