Trans-Tasman rivals lock horns in the longest format for the first time after 2011
It's been a little over seven months since Australia and New Zealand last met on a cricket field. On that occasion, Australia beat New Zealand by seven wickets in the World Cup final in Melbourne. The two nations, of course, have met as recent as five days ago on the rugby field, with the All Blacks brushing aside the Wallabies in the Rugby World Cup final in Twickenham.
Suffice to say, the competition is red-hot and the three-Test series, which kicks off on Thursday (November 5) in Brisbane, is expected to be another humdinger.
At the moment, Australia is a lump of clay that Steve Smith can mould into anything he wishes as the new leader. While his predecessor, Michael Clarke, was known for his bold captaincy, Smith was docked a few points for being too conservative when he led Australia in the last three Tests against India last year as stand-in captain. Now, officially in charge, Smith will be eager to set the record straight.
At his disposal in the bowling department is Mitchell Johnson, Mitchell Starc, Josh Hazlewood, Nathan Lyon and Mitchell Marsh, with Peter Siddle missing out. Though Siddle may feel hard done, having snapped up 6 for 67 in his previous game to give Australia a consolation victory in the fifth and final Ashes Test, it was Hazlewood's heroics on debut in Brisbane that ultimately gave him the edge.
However, it's Australia's batting that will be under more scrutiny, after the retirements of Chris Rogers, Shane Watson and Brad Haddin. Joe Burns, playing just his third Test, has big shoes to fill as Warner's new opening partner, while Usman Khawaja, who last played for Australia in 2013, will be in the firing line at No. 3, with Smith having opted to drop down to No. 4.
Naturally, New Zealand's pacers are licking their lips at the prospect of bowling to a relatively inexperienced line-up. While Trent Boult and Tim Southee are the immediate threats, Doug Bracewell, who was picked over Matt Henry, could play a pivotal role as well. Bracewell's overall figures of 9 for 60 in Hobart in 2011 -- the last time the two teams met in the longest format -- propelled New Zealand to its first Test win in Australia for 16 years.
But the one weak link could be Mark Craig, the offspinner, who isn't in the same league as Lyon, whose record at the venue is an impressive 20 wickets from four Tests at an average of 23.20.
Nevertheless, for the New Zealand pacers to even stand a chance, the batsmen will have to be on song. It will be up to the likes of Martin Guptill, Ross Taylor and BJ Watling to back Brendon McCullum and Kane Williamson for that.
Kevin Mitchell, the Gabba curator, has promised a pitch with healthy pace and bounce, and the game has been talked up in the last few days as a pace shootout. But cricket is rarely, if ever, that simple. The two teams might be as different as chalk and cheese when it comes to their style of play, but the common denominator is a hunger for glory, and another engrossing chapter in the Trans-Tasman contest awaits.
Australia: David Warner, Joe Burns, Usman Khawaja, Steve Smith (capt), Adam Voges, Mitchell Marsh, Peter Nevill (wk), Mitchell Johnson, Mitchell Starc, Josh Hazlewood, Nathan Lyon.
New Zealand: Martin Guptill, Tom Latham, Kane Williamson, Ross Taylor, Brendon McCullum (capt), Jimmy Neesham, BJ Watling (wk), Mark Craig, Doug Bracewell, Tim Southee, Trent Boult.