In Test cricket, unlike the shorter forms of the game, there is no place to hide. And in Australia’s backyard, the ambition of winning a series against the mighty Aussies often has a shorter life cycle than that of an adult mayfly.
A visiting team often begins a tour with visions of a landmark victory dancing in their heads, only for it to be replaced with sobering thoughts of salvaging a draw and later a prayer for a quick, merciful end. Whether New Zealand is the rule or the exception will be revealed in the second Test starting in Perth on Friday (November 13).
The first Test at the Gabba was billed as a game between two evenly matched teams, but a 208-run hiding would have come as a shock to New Zealand’s system. The numbers don’t paint a pretty picture either. Australia amassed 820 runs for the loss of eight wickets; New Zealand mustered 618 runs, losing all 20 wickets in the process.
Trent Boult and Tim Southee were expected to break the back of Australia’s inexperienced batting line-up but while the former struggled for rhythm, the latter literally suffered back pain, not bowling in the match after walking off the field on the second day. He wasn’t the only one wincing in pain; Jimmy Neesham was ruled out of the rest of the series after re-aggravating his back injury and Mitchell McClenaghan has been flown in as a cover.
If New Zealand opts to bring in a specialist bowler to replace Neesham for the second Test, Matt Henry, McClenaghan and Neil Wagner — another paceman who joined the squad after the Gabba Test — will be vying for what could be a four-man attack with Mark Craig expected to move up the order to No. 7.
The WACA pitch is expected to be a fast bowler’s delight, but New Zealand will need to guard against getting carried away by seam movement and bounce. After all, it proved its undoing in Brisbane, where David Warner hit a century in each innings while Usman Khawaja and Joe Burns gave themselves some breathing space in a new-look side with knocks of 174 and 129 respectively.
If anything, a bit of life in the pitch will make Australia’s bowlers an even tougher prospect to face. “It’s nice to know some of their players haven’t played here and we’ve got a lot of experience here,” said Steven Smith, the Australian captain, on Thursday as he confirmed that Australia would go with an unchanged side.
New Zealand was mostly troubled by Mitchell Starc in the last game, but Mitchell Johnson, who has taken 42 wickets at an average of 20.19 in his six Test matches at the WACA, could pose the bigger threat.
The Australia pacers have vowed to keep their foot on the pedal, and first and foremost on their to-do list is removing Kane Williamson early. Allan Border, the former Australia captain, has even gone as far to say that Williamson is “the one I’d choose to bat for my life”. It’s praise well deserved, considering that New Zealand’s No. 3 is the leading run-scorer in all internationals in the current calendar year with 2038 runs and counting.
That doesn’t mean New Zealand is putting all its eggs in Williamson’s basket this series. Brendon McCullum acknowledged as much — “Occasionally, he is going to miss out, and he may miss out in this Test match” — but for the visitor to prove it is no pushover, it will need to improve vastly on its previous performance.
“A lot of steel and a lot of resolve” is what McCullum has asked of his men come Friday, while Smith has likely kept it simpler with a call for more of the same. Temperatures are expected to soar up to 37 degrees in Perth, but fans will hope the contest will be equally sizzling.
Australia: David Warner, Joe Burns, Usman Khawaja, Steven Smith (capt), Adam Voges, Mitchell Marsh, Peter Nevill (wk), Mitchell Johnson, Mitchell Starc, Josh Hazlewood, Nathan Lyon.
New Zealand (from): Martin Guptill, Tom Latham, Kane Williamson, Ross Taylor, Brendon McCullum (capt), BJ Watling (wk), Mark Craig, Doug Bracewell, Tim Southee, Trent Boult, Matt Henry, Neil Wagner, Mitchell Santner, Mitchell McClenaghan, Luke Ronchi, Hamish Rutherford.