Australia and New Zealand rekindle their Trans-Tasman rivalry in the scorching heat of Perth on Thursday as the two sides prepare to lock horns in a hotly anticipated three-match series.
Temperatures at Perth are expected to range around the 40 degree Celsius mark for the majority of the Test, though the clash being a day-night affair will provide the players some minor respite.
Both sides come into the series on the back of impressive Test wins, with Australia annihilating Pakistan on home soil previously while the Kiwis got the better of England. Kane Williamson and his men are ranked No2 in the format and are aiming to become the first New Zealand side to win a Test series in Australia since 1985.
Australia are pink-ball monsters
New Zealand might have arrived on Aussie shores bustling with confidence, but the fact that the first Test will be played with a pink ball plays right into the hands of the hosts. No other side has played as many day-night Tests as Australia who have been the biggest advocates of the pink-ball novelty.
There have been 13 day-night Tests overall since their advent in 2015, with Australia alone accounting for six of them. All six of those Tests have come on Australian soil and the hosts have managed to achieve victory on each occasion. It includes the first-ever day-night Test in history which saw them face off against New Zealand in Adelaide – a match they won by three wickets.
New Zealand, on the other hand, have played just one more day-night Test post that defeat and it resulted in an innings victory over England last year. However, their lack of any warm-up games with the pink-ball ahead of the Perth clash is worrying, and they will need to come to grips with the change very quickly.
Australia have no such problem and they are fresh from an innings victory over Pakistan under the Adelaide Oval lights.
Visitors sweat on Boult’s fitness
Apart from Australia’s pink-ball domination, Kane Williamson’s men also have another pressing concern in the form of Trent Boult’s fitness. The New Zealand pace spearhead is still recovering from a muscular injury he sustained in the first Test against England, and his participation in the Perth clash will be touch and go.
The left-armed seamer did turn out for Wednesday’s net session in Perth, but whether he is fit enough to sustain five days of cricketing action is still a mystery. Should Boult be unable to prove his fitness in time for the series opener, then the Kiwis will probably look to unleash Lockie Ferguson on the Aussies.
Ferguson has made an impressive start to life in white-ball cricket with the help of his searing pace, and it could actually be the perfect weapon for the visitors to use on the bouncy pitches of Australia.
An argument can be made to include him in the playing XI over Tim Southee as well, given that the senior seamer does not have a flattering record in Australia where he averages over 50 with the ball.
Either way, a Test debut for Ferguson will likely happen at some point in the series.
Australia retain XI for third match in a row
For the first time since March, 2018, the Aussies will retain the same playing XI for the third Test in a row and that is a testament to how settled their squad has become of late. It was the Newlands ball-tampering fiasco last year which punctured holes into an otherwise settled XI, with Steve Smith and David Warner copping one-year suspensions as a result.
Those two batting stalwarts are now back and with a bang at that! While it was Smith who led Australia’s charge towards retaining the Ashes urn in England earlier this year, it has been Warner who has been making all the headlines lately with his sensational displays against Pakistan, which included a landmark triple-ton in Adelaide.
The fact that Smith had an unusually quiet series with the bat against Pakistan is ominous for the Kiwis, with the right-hander not known to go large stretches without scoring the big tons. He is also on the verge of surpassing Greg Chappell to become Australia’s 10th highest Test run-getter in history. Do not be surprised if Smith knocks off the requisite 97 runs for that feat in a single innings.
Expected Playing XIs
Australia (confirmed): David Warner, Joe Burns, Marnus Labuschagne, Steve Smith, Travis Head, Matthew Wade, Tim Paine (c and wk), Pat Cummins, Nathan Lyon, Mitchell Starc, Josh Hazlewood.
New Zealand: Tom Latham, Jeet Raval, Henry Nicholls, Kane Williamson (c), Ross Taylor, Colin de Grandhomme, BJ Watling (wk), Mitchell Santner, Tim Southee, Trent Boult/Lockie Ferguson, Neil Wagner.
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