New Zealand v Australia First Test
Friday February 12, 8:30am
The highly anticipated two-test series between New Zealand and Australia kicks-off at Wellington’s Basin Reserve on Friday.
Since going down 2-0 to the Aussies in the Trans-Tasman series in November, the Kiwis comfortably accounted for Sri Lanka at home with their own 2-0 series victory. It was New Zealand’s fourth consecutive test series win at home where they have not been beaten in their last 13 tests, winning seven of the past eight. Against Sri Lanka Kane Williamson continued his sublime form with the bat with three half-centuries from four innings including an unbeaten hundred to steer the Black Caps home in the second test.
Opener Martin Guptill also found some touch in this format after a tough series in Australia and will hope that the runs continue to flow after a productive ODI series. The hosts will be sweating on the fitness of swing specialist Tim Southee who took 13 wickets against Sri Lanka and they will definitely be without all-rounder Mitchell Santner who has succumbed to a foot injury and been replaced in the squad by Mark Craig. Middle-order linchpin Ross Taylor also misses out with a side strain with Henry Nicholls set to make his test debut, while there are also some doubts over wicket-keeper BJ Watling with Luke Ronchi placed on standby.
The Australians will be looking to retain the Trans-Tasman Trophy and avoid a first series loss to New Zealand since 1990. Following the home series in November, the Aussies brushed aside the West Indies 2-0 at home in a series in which they were rarely stretched. All the batsman filled their boots against the Windies, none more so than Adam Voges who followed up a strong series against the Black Caps by scoring 375 runs in two innings against the hapless Windies’ attack without being dismissed.
Josh Hazlewood and Nathan Lyon provided the backbone of the Australian bowling attack throughout the summer, however there is plenty of competition around them with James Pattinson, Peter Siddle, Jackson Bird and the uncapped Chadd Sayers all vying for the two remaining spots. A series victory will see Australia leap-frog India into top spot on the ICC test rankings, however they will need to improve on their record away from home where they have lost six of their past 11 tests, the majority by a convincing margin.
Four of the past six tests at the Basin Reserve have actually finished as draws with Australia the last team to defeat New Zealand here back in 2010. However conditions are expected to favour the bowlers a bit more in this match and it is worth noting that the last two teams to bat first have been bowled out on the first day for scores of 221 and 192. Black Caps’ first drop Williamson has a phenomenal record at the Basin Reserve, averaging 85.50 in 11 innings at the ground.
Australia are favourites to gain an early edge in the series ahead of the home side with the draw priced as the least likely result.
While the ground has seen plenty of stalemates in recent times I’m happy to oppose the draw given that Australia have drawn only two of their past 13 tests, while their past 10 tests away from home have also produced results. Furthermore New Zealand have only drawn two of their past 15 tests plus there are also no weather concerns. That leaves a straight shootout between both sides which has me favouring the hosts.
As previously mentioned the Black Caps have built an impressive recent record at home, winning their last four test series and remaining unbeaten in their past 13 tests. At the same time Australia have struggled to adapt to foreign conditions, only defeating the West Indies away in the past two years while enduring crushing defeats to Pakistan and England. They also haven’t had the benefit of any first-class warm-up games, while those who did play in the ODI series didn’t inspire a great deal of confidence with the Australians bowled out for under 200 in two of the three matches.
While the personnel may be slightly different, throughout that series the Aussies exhibited a worrying trend of middle-order collapses, losing three wickets for less than 20 runs in each match with even the previously infallible Steve Smith looking out of touch.
Moreover the conditions are expected to replicate those in the UK where during the last Ashes series both the Australian batsmen and bowlers struggled to adjust. The Kiwis may have a few injury concerns but Australia will be without their premium swing bowler in Mitchell Starc who was the Aussies’ most threatening bowler in the Ashes and will be sorely missed in these conditions. Therefore at the current prices I’m more than happy to side with the Kiwis and back Brandon McCullum’s men to claim a 1-0 series lead.