Australia have weaknesses we can exploit - Holder
It is not yet December and already the most exciting part of Australia's home Test summer is done. At least, such is the popular thinking among Australian cricket fans. November brought New Zealand, a team capable of providing a stern test of Steven Smith's men. It also brought the novelty of a day-night Test with a pink ball. December brings a West Indies team whose only away Test wins since 2007 have been against Bangladesh.
Cricket Australia know that Boxing Day and New Year's Tests against West Indies will be far from the draw cards of the Ashes or Border-Gavaskar Trophy, and they have hence back-loaded the season with limited-overs matches against India. It is against this backdrop that captain Jason Holder and his team-mates have tiptoed into the country almost unnoticed, preparing for a tour match in Brisbane starting on Wednesday.
Holder knows the task ahead of him is immense. Even with home advantage earlier this year, West Indies could not avoid a 0-2 loss to Australia. But things have changed since then. Holder has replaced Denesh Ramdin as captain, Smith has succeeded Michael Clarke in charge of Australia, and West Indies will also not have to face the retired Mitchell Johnson or the injured Mitchell Starc. Holder hopes those changes to Australia's personnel will help his side.
"We don't come with just some belief, we come with a lot of belief," Holder told reporters in Brisbane on Monday. "If we don't believe, there's no point being here. We have to play aggressive cricket, we have to play smart cricket. The Australians are the No.2-ranked side in the world. They will come at us pretty hard, as we saw in the Caribbean.
"[In the Australia-New Zealand series] We saw weaknesses where we can exploit. There's some new faces, mixed with some guys who have been in rich veins of form. It's important that we put some pressure on their middle order.
"If we get early wickets with the new ball, we can get guys like Shaun Marsh, guys who are trying to make their way back into this side, put them under some pressure to score. Once we can do that it should be a relatively competitive series. They have some in-form batsmen, David Warner and Steve Smith, so it's just important that we put some pressure on their middle order."
To do so, Holder has a simple plan: move the ball. Swing it, seam it, and test the techniques of Australia's batsmen. The first Test is in Hobart, where cloudy overhead conditions can sometimes help swing bowlers, but it is also often a good pitch on which to bat. Holder watched with interest as Australia piled on the runs on flatter decks in Brisbane and Perth before struggling in Adelaide.
"Not only do we have the pace, we have bowlers with the skill to extract movement," Holder said. "I saw in the first two Test matches there were some pretty flat pitches and the ball didn't do much. The Australian batsmen and the New Zealand batsmen were able to capitalise.
"One of the crucial things in this series will be to extract some movement. I saw what movement did in this last Test match with New Zealand and Australia, with both sides being a bit at fault and being caught out. It's important our bowlers look to do something with the ball."
Equally, the West Indies batsmen must find a way to counter Australia's bowlers in their own conditions. On Tuesday morning, they will find out which bowlers have been picked for the first Test in Hobart, with James Pattinson likely to be in the squad alongside Peter Siddle and Josh Hazlewood, although Hazlewood may be rested at some point in the series.
In the series in the Caribbean earlier this year, no West Indies batsman managed to score a century and Holder himself topped their run list with 116, despite batting at No.8. It is six years since West Indies have visited Australia for Tests and their entire top six has changed in that time, meaning plenty of learning ahead for the batsmen in these three Tests, although Marlon Samuels has played Tests in Australia previously.
"It's one of the biggest challenges," Holder said. "They're a very good side playing at home, it's just important that we learn as quickly as possible and not be intimidated by their bowlers, just be confident. If we make improvements then I'll be quite happy at the end of the series."
Brydon Coverdale is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. @brydoncoverdale