Australia vs New Zealand, 2nd Test Preview- Focus on the MCG pitch as visitors aim to gain parity in the series

Australia vs New Zealand, 2nd Test Preview- Focus on the MCG pitch as visitors aim to gain parity in the series

After a dismal batting performance in Perth, the BlackCaps have announced a shake-up of their opening combination.

Australia
Australia. (Photo Source: Twitter)

The Melbourne Cricket Ground has seen a lot of iconic moments between the Trans-Tasman rivals over the years. Who can forget that ill-fated underarm incident in albeit a limited-overs fixture in the summer of 1981? Or the enduring moment of camaraderie during the 1987 Boxing Day Test when the legendary Sir Richard Hadlee draped his arm around the shoulders of a beaming Mike Whitney after the latter had successfully negotiated Hadlee’s threat, denying the Kiwis an elusive Test win Down Under?

Its been 32 years since New Zealand locked horns with their Trans-Tasman rivals at the iconic Melbourne Cricket Ground, and the upcoming Test wouldn’t give them a better opportunity to right the wrongs of 1987 and script history Down Under. It wouldn’t be that easy though, as the Kangaroos are in red-hot form, having shrugged off-first Pakistan and then the Kiwis in the opening Test of the series.

But, unlike Perth, the conditions at the MCG wouldn’t be as alien to the visitors as they were at the Optus Stadium, where the Australian fast bowlers absolutely bamboozled their top-order with pace, venom, and hostility. The spotlight will also be on the kind of track that the curator dishes out. 

The pitch at the MCG has been under heavy scrutiny in the past few years. The track was awarded a ‘poor rating’ by the ICC during the 2017 Ashes Test which also graduated to ‘average’ in the last Test played at the venue against India. Moreover, the recent Sheffield Shield game at the ‘G was abandoned after the pitch showed considerable uneven bounce, something which everyone will hope isn’t the case when the two sides lock horns for the iconic Boxing Day Test.

Team Combination

Australia

With the Melbourne pitch being notorious of dishing out flat batting decks in recent times, the Australian think-tank-led by coach Justin Langer is seriously pondering over doing away with their four-bowler strategy, and play an extra fast bowler in favour of a batsman.

While Langer confirmed that David Warner [who has recovered from a knock to his hand during the training session] and James Pattinson [in place of an injured Josh Hazlewood] are locked for the Boxing Day Test, If Australia does go down that route of playing five frontline bowlers, then Travis Head could make way for Michael Nesser.

Probable XI-

David Warner, Joe Burns, Marnus Labuschagne, Steven Smith, Matthew Wade, Travis Head/Michael Nesser, Tim Paine [c & wk], Mitchell Starc, Pat Cummins, Nathan Lyon, James Pattinson

New Zealand

After a dismal batting performance in Perth, the BlackCaps have announced a shake-up of their opening combination with the under-fire Jeet Raval [who averages 7.3 in his last nine Test innings] is set to make way for wicketkeeper-batsman Tom Blundell.

Blundell featured in the tour game on Sunday against Victoria XI and gave a good account of himself with an unbeaten half-century. Apart from Blundell, ace fast bowler Trent Boult is also set to make a return to the playing XI after having missed the home Test against England and the Perth Test against the Aussies due to injury.

Probable XI-

Tom Latham, Tom Blundell, Kane Williamson [c], Ross Taylor, Henry Nicholls, BJ Watling [WK] Colin de Grandhomme, Mitchell Santner, Neil Wagner, Tim Southee, Trent Boult

Focus will be on

Steven Smith [AUS]- Steven Smith is having a lean summer according to his standards. The right-hander scored 43 & 16 in the first Test before he fell prey to Neil Wagner’s ploy of trapping him with the short-pitch onslaught. But that could all change at the MCG.

Smith declared that he is ready to take on the short-pitch challenge, and if one looks at the champion batsman’s record in Boxing Day Tests- 816 runs in 10 innings at an average of 136 including four centuries- one can’t help but think that the signs ate looking ominous for the Kiwis.

Tom Latham [NZ]- Tom Latham averages 57.19 as a Test match opener since the start of 2018. During this period, the southpaw has racked up 1201 runs with the help of five hundred and has been the cornerstone of New Zealand’s batting unit. Latham could only manage 0&18 at Perth, and his lack of runs was one of the major reasons as to why the Kiwis struggled with the bat. And, come the Boxing Day Test, the onus will be on Latham to provide a solid base for their middle-order.

Stat Attack-

0– Tests won by New Zealand at the Melbourne Cricket Ground. In the three games that the visitors have played at the ‘G, they have lost one but two of them have ended in a draw.

136– That’s Steve Smith’s average in ten innings at the MCG.

2– Number of Tests lost by Australia at the MCG this decade. They lost to England in 2010-11 and most recently against India last summer.

1– Number of Tests won by New Zealand against Australia since the start of 2000. During this period, they have lost 17 out of 23 matches, with a W/L ratio of 0.058.

Broadcast Details

TV – Sony ESPN, Sony ESPN HD

Online – Sony LIV

Match Timings – 11:00 local time, 12:00 AM GMT, 05:30 AM IST

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