2019-20 Australia vs. New Zealand Test Series – Preview

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.

 

2019-20 Australia vs. Pakistan Test Series – Preview

On Thursday, it will be the start of the first Test match and subsequently test series of the Australian summer of cricket, but it feels much bigger than that!

It is the return of Steve Smith and David Warner to play their first test match in Australia since the 4th to the 8th of January, 2018, when Australia completed a four-nil Ashes series victory against England, but a lot has changed since then, with the Ball Tampering Scandal just over two months later in South Africa, with Smith, Warner, and Cameron Bancroft, the player who committed the attempted ball tampering, were banned from playing international and domestic cricket for 12, 12, and nine months respectively, with Smith and Bancroft banned from holding a formal leadership position for a further 12 months, and Warner never allowed to hold a formal leadership position in Australian cricket, and as a result, Australia have only achieved one test series victory since then, which was a two-nil series victory against Sri Lanka in the 2018-19 Australian summer.

However, although there is still a lingering feeling, a very minute feeling that others involved, most if not all of them no longer working for Cricket Australia, haven’t taken full responsibility for their roles in the Ball Tampering Scandal, and the subsequent aftermath, you feel like everyone who is within the current Australian team set-up have moved on from that harrowing experience.

774 runs in four test matches (seven innings) at an average of 110.57 with three centuries, and a further three scores of 50 or more from Smith during the 2019 Ashes series in England, and you sense that he has taken his batting to a whole new level, but despite this incredible series, the fifth-most runs scored in any Ashes series in history, Australia were unable to win the series, and the pressure will be on Warner, Joe Burns, Marnus Labuschagne, Travis Head, and Matthew Wade to lift their games.

Labuschagne was Australia’s next best batsman after stepping up in place of Smith to become the first concussion substitute in the history of Test match cricket, scoring 353 runs in four test matches (seven innings) at an average of 50.42 with four fifties, and while Wade was solid in scoring 337 runs in five test matches (10 innings) with two crucial centuries, although at the slightly mediocre average of 33.70, every other Australian batsman scored less than 200 runs, with Warner scoring just 95 runs in five test matches (10 innings) at an average of just 9.50.

However, Warner’s form since returning to Australia has been more promising, and given his record of 3698 runs in 38 test matches in Australia (67 innings, five times NOT OUT) at an average of 59.64 with 15 hundreds and a further 12 fifties, Warner is surely going to play a huge role, not only in this test series against Pakistan, but also in the test series against New Zealand.

Tim Paine has been excellent since taking over the Australian captaincy, not only in terms of his leadership, but also his wicket-keeping, taking 20 catches in the 2019 Ashes series, while the bowling attack of Pat Cummins, Josh Hazlewood, Mitchell Starc, and Nathan Lyon in Australian conditions pick themselves, and while Cummins (29 wickets (leading series wicket-taker) at 19.62), and Hazlewood (20 wickets at 21.85) were superb throughout the 2019 Ashes series, and Lyon (20 wickets at 33.40) bowled generally in his consistent normal self, you feel like Starc has a point to prove after playing in just one of the five test matches in England, taking four wickets at an average of 31.50, and being overlooked for the likes of James Pattinson (five wickets at 33.40), and Peter Siddle (seven wickets at 42.14).

Meanwhile, Pakistan are quietly building a team that could be very competitive in Australia with captain Azhar Ali expected to lead the way with the bat, having scored 406 runs in three test matches (six innings, one time NOT OUT) at an average of 81.20 back in the 2016-17 series in Australia to be the second-leading run-scorer in the series behind Smith (441 runs at 110.25), which from an Australia point of view happened after the series between Australia and South Africa, which featured the Hobart Debacle, and in hindsight, the events afterwards were the catalyst to what happened about a year and a half later.

On paper, you would expect that the job of the top order of Imam-ul-Haq, Shan Masood, Azhar Ali, and Haris Sohail to lay a good and solid platform to allow the likes of Asad Shafiq and Babar Azam the ability to shine!

Asad Shafiq was good in patches in the 2016-17 series in Australia, scoring 239 runs in three test matches (six innings) at an average of 39.83, including 137 in the second innings in the first test match at The Gabba in Brisbane to help Pakistan to within 40 runs of what would have been an historic victory, earning the Player of the Match award in the process, while Babar Azam has been dominant in the shorter forms of the game, averaging over 50 in both One Day International cricket (3359 runs in 74 matches at 54.17) and Twenty20 International cricket (1405 runs in 36 matches at 50.17). If he can translate this level of run-scoring into this Test series, and in his Test career in general, where he has scored 1235 runs from 21 matches (40 innings, five times NOT OUT) at an average of 35.28, he could potentially be the difference.

Mohammad Rizwan should be the wicket-keeper, replacing the sacked Sarfaraz Ahmed, but the bowling attack is set to be a mixture of experience and youth. Yasir Shah and Mohammad Abbas are set to be a part of the attack, with both of them set to bowl a lot of overs throughout the course of the series.

Yasir Shah struggled badly in the 2016-17 series in Australia (8 wickets in three test matches at an average of 84.00, and will be looking to perform better this time around, while Mohammad Abbas (66 wickets in 14 test matches at 18.86) will be the man with the task of bringing down the juggernaut that is the great Steve Smith, and you almost feel from a Pakistan point of view that Mohammad Abbas has to be the Player of the Series if Pakistan are to win a series against Australia in Australia for the very first time.

Then you got competition for the final two spots in the bowling attack between Imran Khan, Muhammad Musa, Naseem Shah, and Shaheen Afridi. If Naseem Shah makes his test match debut on Thursday, he will become the youngest player to play a test match on Australian soil in what would be just his eighth first class match, having taken 27 wickets at an average of 16.66 in his seven first class matches to date.

So, who will win the series?

Pakistan have won just four of their 35 test matches against Australia in Australia, and haven’t won a test match in Australia since November 30 to December 4, 1995 at the Sydney Cricket Ground. Pakistan have also never won at either The Gabba (one draw in five test matches) or the Adelaide Oval (three draws in four test matches), but you sense they have a better chance on paper at the Adelaide Oval compared to The Gabba, but while you sense Pakistan are on the rise, you just have that inkling that Australia are going to be better at the crucial moments during this series and that will be the difference in the end!

AUSTRALIA TO WIN THE SERIES 2-0.

My review of the Second Ashes Test Match

Australia have taken a two-nil lead in the 2017-18 Ashes Series after winning by 120 runs at the Adelaide Oval in the first-ever day/night Ashes Test Match between Australia and England.

It was a match highlighted by the performance of Shaun Marsh with the bat, scoring 126 not out from 231 deliveries to score his fifth Test match century in his 25th Test match for Australia, surpassing the record of his father Geoff, who scored four centuries in 50 Test matches for Australia from between 1985 and 1992.

It was a tough and gritty performance which proved to be the difference in a match where for the most part all other players failed to go on to make big scores on a pitch which it was often hard to score quickly, thanks in part to the behaviour at times of the pink ball, as evidence by David Warner’s struggle to get going in the second innings, scoring 14 runs from 60 deliveries. Warner seems to be struggling to find top form at the moment you sense, but you would have to believe that playing at the WACA in Perth, a place where he has a great record, averaging 89.22 and achieving his highest Test match score of 253 there against New Zealand back in 2015, will bring the best out of the Australian vice-captain.

Other performances to highlight include the five-wicket hauls in their respective second innings’ for both James Anderson (5/43), which was incidentally his first Test match five-wicket haul in Australia, and Mitchell Starc (5/88), who took the last three wickets of the match to give Australia a two-nil series lead, as well as Nathan Lyon’s performance in the first innings (4/60), and the performance of Chris Woakes (4/36) in support of Anderson in the second.

However, the biggest talking points of the match were of two key decisions, one made by England captain Joe Root, the other made by Australian captain Steve Smith. Before I talk about Root’s decision at the toss to bowl, I want to talk about Smith’s decision to not enforce the follow-on after Australia bowled out England for 227, which left England 215 runs behind Australia after the first two innings’ of the match.

In my view, regardless of the result of the match, Smith made the right decision not to enforce the follow-on, and although Australia’s batting performance in their second innings wasn’t necessarily up to scratch, Smith’s decision not to enforce the follow-on was vindicated with a 53-run opening partnership by England’s opening batsmen in Alastair Cook and Mark Stoneman, and England were at one stage 3/169 before a wicket late on Day Four, with Pat Cummins clean bowling Dawid Malan from round the wicket to change the momentum of the match.

England proceeded to lose 7/63 on-route to losing the second test match of the series by 120 runs. However, even if England managed to go onto win the test match to level the series, I think Smith made the right decision not to enforce the follow-on, and would have been more vindicated in my mind of that decision if England had gone onto win the test match, despite this thought process going against common logic.

Instead, if Australia had lost the second test match, the vast-majority of the criticism should be directed at the Australian fast bowlers in Mitchell Starc, Josh Hazlewood, and Pat Cummins for their lack of overall fitness and durability, as well as Pat Howard, the General Manager of Team Performance with Cricket Australia for his inability to manage the overall fitness and durability of fast bowlers in Australia.

Cummins, in particular, looks so stiff and unnatural when he is running in the field, and still has a pronounced limp in his gait when he is walking, and until he starts to run a bit more naturally, a long process given the back problems he has had in the past, Cummins will always be vulnerable to injuring his back again when he is bowling.

And while many of us are criticising the batting performance of Australia in recent times in Test match cricket, the inability for Australia to produce fast bowlers who are durable for a long period of time has hindered Australia’s ability to produce top-quality batsmen. It is important to think about this before criticising the batsmen because you can score as many runs as you would like, but if you don’t take 20 wickets, you are no chance!

As for Joe Root’s decision to bowl first at the toss, even if England were able to come back to win the test match, Root made the wrong decision to bowl first as England failed to bowl out Australia in the opening innings, especially when they need to bowl out Australia for a small total, so it was a massive mistake, as is his belief that England can come back to win or retain The Ashes.

At the WACA Ground in Perth, a place where England haven’t won a test match at in 39 years, and have lost eight of their last 10 Test matches there, including their last seven, I am expecting Australia to dominate the third test match of the series in what will likely be the final Ashes Test match held at the WACA, with only a minor miracle able to prevent Australia from regaining The Ashes.