Australia vs New Zealand, 3rd Test, Preview – Last chance for the Kiwis to wind up a tough tour with a win in foggy Sydney
Australia are clear favourites to continue their winning streak in the home summer.
Updated - Jan 2, 2020 12:49 pm
We are at the business end of the Australian summer – the one in which each game in two versions of the sport remained heavily skewed to the home side. In retrospect, New Zealand were the team banked upon to push Australia to the limits this summer, if not handing them a series loss. But as we look back to the two-Test series against Pakistan and compare it with the current leg, both parties are almost on the same page with the bat. Or maybe the Kiwis have been the underperformers so far.
Despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary, pundits labelled this opportunity the best for the Black Caps to break the 34-year drought in Australia. But their issues keep compounding due to injuries, form concerns and the signs of flu forcing Kane Williamson and Henry Nicholls to skip training sessions ahead of the third Test. At the helm of all the problems, lies Kane Williamson, for whom hardly anything has gone his way. With a high score of 34 across four innings, the Kiwi captain has failed to set things in motion from the front.
Moreover, his decision to field first in the Boxing Day Test received widespread criticism as Australia flattened them completely. Beyond these realms, let’s not forget Neil Wagner’s strenuous efforts in penetrating Steven Smith on all four occasions. And Tom Blundell’s valiant century in the fourth innings of the previous Test to craft a blueprint for his colleagues on his first Test Test in Australia. But the third Test in Sydney marks the dawn of a new decade and Kane Williamson and his men have one last chance to salvage pride on a forgettable tour.
In contrast, Tim Paine‘s men possess all the ingredients to complete a perfect summer which will also likely hand them a number two ranking in Tests. Even as the home side is riding high on confidence, the bushfires in Sydney have captured the news and could play a spoilsport. The temperature on day two is forecasted to touch 45 degrees along with the hazy conditions hovering. Aussie coach Justin Langer desires for slight rain from his part in the non-cricketing hours to smother the fire.
Meanwhile, bar every batsman; Joe Burns remains a slight cause of concern since he has averaged only 24 from four innings and has looked vulnerable against the ball nipping back in. James Pattinson, who replaced Josh Hazlewood at the MCG, ably supported Mitch Starc and Pat Cummins. The Victorian made a significant impact by sending back Kiwis’ ace batsmen cheaply across two innings. However, the think-tank may tinker with the bowling line-up, awarding leg-spinner Mitchell Swepson the Baggy Green since SCG offers a lot more spin.
It would be highly interesting to see if Australia go with two spinners by giving Mitchell Swepson a crack at Test cricket. In case the leggie finds a spot in the eleven, the home side faces a tough choice of leaving out Cummins, Pattinson or Starc. If they decide on a five-bowler strategy, Matthew Wade could be the one to make way for Swepson since Australia have reliable tailenders who can support their batsmen, if needed.
David Warner, Joe Burns, Marnus Labuschagne, Steven Smith, Matthew Wade, Travis Head, Tim Paine (C & WK), Mitchell Starc, Pat Cummins, Nathan Lyon, James Pattinson.
The visitors have also drafted a spinner in Will Somerville as a replacement for their injured pace spearhead, Trent Boult. The 35-year old off-spinner made his move to New Zealand after spending four seasons with New South Wales, playing in the Sheffield Shield for them. Hence, Somerville could find himself reunited to a venue where it all started for him.
New Zealand may not consider to leave out Mitchell Santner, despite figures of 1/250 in two Tests along with a batting average of 8. Playing two spinners on a deck that assists spin relatively more than Perth and Melbourne, can enable them to exploit the conditions and finally put Australia’s batsmen under severe pressure.
It has also been reported from the SCG that Williamson and Nicholls couldn’t turn up for the training sessions even today as a result of feeling unwell. Thus, the duo’s absence could further dent the balance of the side.
Tom Latham, Tom Blundell, Kane Williamson (C), Ross Taylor, Henry Nicholls, BJ Watling (WK), Colin de Grandhomme, Mitchell Santner, Neil Wagner, Tim Southee, Will Somerville
Focus will be on
Steve Smith (Australia)
Steven Smith marked a thunderous return to Test cricket in August 2019 in the Ashes in England and made Australia retain the urn almost single-handedly through his marathon knocks. Strangely, he is suffering a lean run at home, becoming victim to some well-directed short-pitched deliveries from Neil Wagner and some cunning field placings.
The number two Test batsman in the rankings averages 37.75 this series, having scored a solitary half-century. He would be donning the whites in front of his home crowd for the first time since a year-long ban. Smith averages 68.50 at the SCG and would be hoping to amass a big score to mark a fitting end to the home summer.
Kane Williamson (New Zealand)
This indeed has not been a series of batting heavyweights. Steve Smith hasn’t been at his best this summer while Kane Williamson’s average has plummeted to 14.25 across four innings. Even though Australia have been brilliant in keeping him under pressure, the 29-year old has found himself on the wrong side of luck. The dead rubber in Sydney gives him a chance to sign off on a winning note along with finding some form with the bat ahead of the home series against India.
1 – The loss in Melbourne marked New Zealand’s first Test series defeat in more than two years. Before this, the Proteas were the last to beat the Kiwis when they scored a series victory over them in 2016-17 in New Zealand.
42 – Ross Taylor is still 42 runs shy from overtaking Stephen Fleming’s tally of 7172 to become the nation’s highest run-getter in Tests.
1985 – The Black Caps have played only two Tests at the SCG, the last of which came in 1985. They suffered a defeat in the second Test of the 1985-86 series but managed to beat Australia in the final Test to win that leg. Incidentally, this is the last time ever that New Zealand beat Australia in a Test series.
22 – David Warner needs 22 runs to go past Greg Chappell’s tally of 7110 Test runs.
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Match Timings – 10.30 AM local time; 05:00 AM IST