Aussies’ Demise is Greatly Exaggerated

Ahead of a highly-anticipated three Test series in Australia, New Zealand might just find that rumour of the Aussies’ demise is greatly exaggerated.

The touring Kiwis have arrived in confident mood that this side could be the first to taste victory in a series on Australian soil since 1985. Their brash and enterprising style, led by their fearless captain Brendon McCullum, coupled with an Australian side still licking its wounds from an unexpected Ashes defeat has seen many pundits suggesting that the Kiwis could inflict further pain on the beleaguered hosts.

Aussies’ Demise is Greatly Exaggerated

The retirements of captain Michael Clarke, stalwart Brad Haddin, enigmatic all-rounder Shane Watson and the ever-reliable top order batsman Chris Rogers on top of losing spearhead quick Ryan Harris before the Ashes has gutted the core of the Australian side. However, these points either in isolation or combined don’t change the fact that the team still boasts a collection of match winners with a strong record on Australian wickets.

Mitchell Johnson was down on his best form in Australia’s Ashes defeat in England, but the tearaway quick is an altogether different beast on Australian decks. His three best venues in terms of bowling average and strike rate in Australia are Brisbane (23.00 @ 41.8), Perth (20.19 @ 35.6) and Adelaide (22.93 @ 42.8) at a combined total of 103 wickets at an average of 21.8. These just so happen to be the venues for each of the three Tests between the two nations in this series.

If Mitchell Johnson represents a legitimate threat with the ball, new captain Steve Smith wields matching menace with the willow. The skipper averages 66.05 in 12 Tests on home soil, with five of his career 11 Test centuries having been made in Australia since the start of 2014.

Prolific opener David Warner has only played in two Tests against New Zealand, but averages 76.50 from those matches, demonstrating that Australia are far from a lame duck against their nearest rivals.

New Zealand, for their part, will be buoyed by the fact, on their last tour in 2011, they won a Test in Australia for the first time since Sir Richard Hadlee led his side to a series win in 1985. That win came at a cold and damp Bellerive Oval in Tasmania in conditions that were as close to New Zealand as you can expect in Australia. However, there will be no such repeat in this series.

Much is reliant on New Zealand’s skipper McCullum to lead the way if New Zealand are to be competitive, but where his career average is a respectable 38.76, that dips to an alarming 25.85 in 11 Tests against Australia and an even more troubling figure of 22.90 in six Tests in Australia.

Much more will also be required of Kane Williamson and BJ Watling, who average 18.00 and 25.75 respectively against Australia, although it must be conceded that both have become far more accomplished and consistent cricketers since they last faced them.

Adding further fuel to the fire is the fact that these teams don’t much like one another. The Kiwis have won plaudits around the globe for their positive, attacking but ultimately respectful manner of cricket, whilst the Australians in contrast remain adherents to the famed mental disintegration approach indoctrinated under Steve Waugh.

Tensions escalated further at the Cricket World Cup earlier this year, when Brad Haddin suggested the Kiwis were too nice and that he personally couldn’t stand it. His exit is unlikely to simmer tensions between the regional rivals.

The third Test in Adelaide, starting on November 27th, is also intriguing for the fact that it will be played under lights, with a pink ball, as Test cricket continues its fight for relevance. However, should the series be wrapped up by the time we reach Adelaide, the match risks becoming a token marketing experiment.

New Zealand are saying all the right things in the lead up to the first Test starting in Brisbane on November 5th, but short of three decades of history and overwhelming evidence that Australia are rarely beaten in their familial surroundings, it’s hard to dismiss Mark Twain’s famous remark on hype and speculation, albeit with a greatly exaggerated cricketing context.