SYDNEY (Reuters) - Australia opened their home season with a cakewalk against Pakistan but New Zealand should present a much stiffer challenge when they look to end their 34-year wait for a second test series triumph in their neighbours’ backyard.
Boasting a line-up rated by at least one former Australia test player as the best the country has ever produced, New Zealand have rarely travelled across the Tasman Sea with such confidence that they can get the job done.
Kane Williamson’s experienced Blacks Caps head into the three-match series riding high in second place in the world test rankings behind India after recording their fifth successive series win at home, a 1-0 triumph over England.
“This New Zealand line-up is the greatest test team they have produced,” former Australia batsman Dean Jones wrote in the Sydney Morning Herald at the weekend.
“It’s a big call I know, but I feel they have the personnel that can beat Australia in the three-test series.”
New Zealand’s chances might depend on how they deal with the unknown with a day-nighter at Perth Stadium starting on Thursday before they move onto the more traditional Australian summer fare of test matches in Melbourne and Sydney.
Trent Boult’s side injury is a concern but New Zealand now boast real depth and should the stalwart paceman fail a fitness test it would probably mean a test debut for Lockie Ferguson.
The pace and bounce the 28-year-old can generate would appear tailor-made for Perth against Australia’s batsmen, who were virtually untested by Pakistan’s pacemen in the 2-0 trouncing with which they started their home season.
Australian batsmen tend to thrive on home wickets, however, and David Warner, who hit an unbeaten 355 in the second Pakistan test, and Steve Smith, who had an extraordinary Ashes series in England, could prove difficult to shift.
The return of the duo, banned for a year for the ball-tampering scandal, has helped settle the batting line-up and with the bowlers all but picking themselves, unforced changes from the Pakistan series look unlikely.
“I’d be a brave man to change the XI,” coach Justin Langer said in Perth on Tuesday
“There used to be a philosophy in Australian cricket, which worked so well for us - it’s harder to get out of the Australian cricket team than it is to get in it.
“That usually happens when guys are playing well and the team is playing well.”
Cricket Australia have promised to do their best to ensure a decent surface for the Boxing Day test at the Melbourne Cricket Ground (MCG) after a match there was abandoned at the weekend because of a dangerous wicket.
They will also be hoping that the bushfire smoke that shrouded the Sydney Cricket Ground (SCG) on Tuesday will have dissipated by the time the third test gets underway on Jan. 3.
First, though, is what will be only a second test at Perth’s magnificent new arena with all the variables of the pink ball, the potential of the ball turning in the evening sessions, and the fierce heat of the Western Australian summer.
“It’s obviously a little bit foreign to us, coming to Australia and this stadium,” said New Zealand quick Tim Southee.
“But a strength of this side is that we’ve gone to various part of the world and had success.”
Editing by Peter Rutherford