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November 18, 2008
New Zealand remain full of hope as they attempt to break a 23-year drought without a Test win in Australia and erase some poor recent results. The tourists barely managed to beat Bangladesh in the first Test last month and lost a warm-up game against New South Wales on Sunday, which was not ideal preparation for Thursday's opening match at the Gabba.
The wicketkeeper Brendon McCullum, who is battling a foot injury sustained in Sydney, hopes to be fit and is in no doubt about the difference between the top-ranked Australia and New Zealand, who are seventh, one point above West Indies. "There's such a big gulf in terms of what Australia's achieved and what we've achieved in the last little while in Test cricket," McCullum said. "From that perspective there's probably no reason why people would think it would be an even contest."
Sections of the local media have already called the tourists the weakest New Zealand team to tour Australia for decades, but McCullum has not downgraded his aims and wants their first Test win since 1985-86. "We're incredibly high on self-belief and drive within our unit, and trying to achieve something that hasn't been achieved over here for 20-odd years," he said. "There's huge motivation for us to try and come up with a pretty special victory."
The visiting squad contains a host of players who have not been part of heavy beatings from Australia, although this team is less formidable than those which included Glenn McGrath and Shane Warne. Australia are coming off a 2-0 series loss to India last week but it is hard to discuss the tourists without mentioning their inexperience.
"We're at long odds but also with nothing to lose," McCullum said. "You'll probably see guys play with a lot less fear than what we have done in the past. When you are such rank outsiders you can almost throw a little bit more caution to the wind.
"With fewer battle scars in our squad than what we had in the past, that's pretty exciting as well. Guys aren't as fearful of the Australian team because we haven't got the experience and played them a lot as a team."
McCullum said the top six would aim for a first-innings score of at least 400 in a bid to put pressure on the hosts, who he still rates as the game's No. 1 outfit. "They're more vulnerable but they're still by far and away the best team in the world," he said. "They lost one series and they're being ridiculed in the paper for it, but in our minds they're still by far and away the best team."
The conditions at the Gabba should suit the visitors, with the rain and extra moisture helping their attack, which includes the fast bowler Kyle Mills. The absence of Jacob Oram, who scored a century here four years ago, with injury is significant and during the series there will be times when they wish for someone of the quality of Shane Bond, who is banned because of his links with the Indian Cricket League.
"[Jacob is] huge for us and he really helps the balance, batting at seven and bowling third-change," Mills said. "He's going to be a big loss. We've experienced in the past guys like Shane Bond being injured before, we're used to experiencing that. With Jacob out the rest of us have to step up."
West Indies and Sri Lanka have been hit hard by the Indian Twenty20 competitions, but New Zealand have suffered the most and lost a core of experienced players. Now they are trying to patch up a squad that can compete with Australia.
"I can think of seven or eight guys who have gone to the ICL and that takes our whole depth out of the country," Mills said. "It's disappointing, when you're playing for the Black Caps, you want your best team playing at all time."
© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.
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