Australia versus New Zealand. One of the great rivalries in world sport, and in cricket that is no exception, and although New Zealand haven’t won a Test series against Australia, either on home soil or on Australian soil, since they won the only test match against Australia back in March, 1990 at the Basin Reserve, and a Test series with multiple test matches against Australia in either New Zealand or Australia since February and March of 1986, where New Zealand won the third and final test match at Eden Park in Auckland to claim a one-nil series victory, the Black Caps are the higher-ranked team according to the ICC Test Match Rankings, second in the rankings behind India, while Australia is ranked fifth, just behind South Africa (4th) and England (3rd).
However, Australia have moved up into second behind India in the ICC World Test Championship after their completely dominant two-nil series victory against Pakistan, and despite winning their recent two-match series against England (1-0), which was not a part of the ICC Test Match Championship, New Zealand (60 points) come into this Test series third in the ICC Test Match Championship, but 116 points behind Australia (176 points), and 300 points behind India (360 points) after drawing their two-match series against Sri Lanka in Sri Lanka back in August.
So, who are going to be the key players in this series?
The Australian top order of David Warner, Joe Burns and Marnus Labuschagne starred in the two-match series against Pakistan, and while Burns scored 101 runs at an average of 50.50, Warner and Labuschagne dominated the Pakistan bowlers, with Warner rebounding from a torrid Ashes series in England, where he only scored 95 runs in five test matches (10 innings) at an average of just 9.50, to scoring a series-leading 489 runs from two innings (one not out), including his highest Test match score of 335 not out in Adelaide, the first time anyone has scored 300 or more in a Test match innings at the Adelaide Oval, and the second-highest Test match score by an Australian, while Labuschagne scored 347 runs at an average of 173.50, scoring his first two Test match centuries in the process.
However, you sense the main man for this Test series for Australia as far as the batting is concerned will be Steve Smith, and despite his lean series against Pakistan, his 774 runs in four test matches (seven innings) at an average of 110.57 with three centuries in the 2019 Ashes series is still not far from mind, and he is just 186 runs away, with two test matches remaining in 2019, from scoring 1,000 runs for the fifth time in the last six calendar years. It would be an extraordinary achievement, even by Steve Smith standards, given the difficult times he has had over the last year or so, circumstances we all know so well!
Of course, the Australian bowling attack of Mitchell Starc, Josh Hazlewood, Pat Cummins, and Nathan Lyon, who were incidentally the Top Four wicket-takers in the two-match series against Pakistan, with Cummins (51 wickets from 10 matches (19 innings) at 20.31) the only bowler to have taken 50 Test match wickets or more in 2019, will play a huge role, but you sense that Matthew Wade, Travis Head, and Australian captain Tim Paine will need to lift with the bat for Australia (if and when they get the chance) if they are to continue their superiority against New Zealand.
Looking at New Zealand, the obvious key player is their captain in Kane Williamson, who has scored 500 runs in Australia from five test matches (10 innings, one not out) at an average of 55.55. Williamson is also 43 runs away from scoring 500 runs in eight-consecutive calendar years, currently averaging 76.16, which is currently his second-best average in a calendar having averaged 90.15 back in 2015. Williamson was also the leading run-scorer for New Zealand when they last toured Australia back in 2015, scoring 428 runs in three test matches (six innings, one not out) at an average of 85.60.
Ross Taylor is also a vital player for the Black Caps, having scored 405 runs in three test matches (six innings, one not out) at an average of 81.00, including scoring 290 at the WACA, which is his highest test match score, and the third-highest by a New Zealander. Taylor is also 153 runs away from becoming the third Kiwi to score 1,000 Test match runs against Australia.
However, those two will need to be supported by the underrated Tom Latham and BJ Watling, who have scored 525 runs at 65.62 (six test matches, eight innings), and 482 runs at 80.33 (six test matches, seven innings, one not out) respectively in 2019, as well as their bowling attack of Trent Boult, Tim Southee, Neil Wagner, and Mitchell Santner.
Boult is under an injury cloud with a side strain injury, along with Colin de Grandhomme, who has an abdominal tear, injuries which kept both of them out of the second test match against England.
Boult was the equal-leading wicket-taker in the 2015 series in Australia, taking 13 wickets, while Wagner is New Zealand’s leading wicket-tacker in 2019, taking 29 wickets at 16.62, but like with Australia with Wade and Head, the likes of Jeet Raval, and Henry Nicholls will need to lift with the bat if New Zealand are going to win their first Test series on Australian soil since 1985.
So, who will win the Test series between Australia and New Zealand?
New Zealand have just won eight of their 57 test matches against Australia overall, with only three of those victories coming in Australia, but they have never won against Australia at either the Melbourne Cricket Ground in three test matches (two draws), or the Sydney Cricket Ground in two test matches (one draw), and have never played at the Optus Stadium in Perth, and although you sense New Zealand are at the top of their games in Test match cricket right now, you certainly can see Australia are on the rise once again, and when that happens, it is close to impossible to defeat them in a Test series in Australia.
AUSTRALIA TO WIN THE SERIES 2-0, WITH A DRAW IN EITHER MELBOURNE OR SYDNEY.