Australia start on the road to recovery
Match factsNovember 20-24, 2008
Start time 10.00am (00.00GMT)
After the 2-0 loss in India, Australia start the first of three series that will show whether they are experiencing a form blip, in a rut or stuck in a trough. New Zealand traditionally aim high against their trans-Tasman rivals and despite being seventh on the ICC rankings, and carrying an under-manned squad, this contest may not be a stroll for the hosts.
Any hurt lingering from the India defeat has quickly turned into relief for Australia as they return to their home conditions. The bowlers are especially happy to see a Gabba surface that will not only offer bounce, but also seam and swing, easing the aches created from the flat pitches in India. It's a tricky situation for them as a dominant win is expected, but any struggles will magnify their recent unfamiliar form. This is warm-up for the home-and-away series against South Africa over the next four months, which will determine how far Australia drop in the official and unofficial rankings.
For New Zealand, it is a chance to see whether their new group of players can compete against an outfit that has never had an opportunity to scar them. Australia's team is less fearsome than it was the last time they visited, but the tourists are almost unrecognisable from four years ago. The bookmakers are not convinced of New Zealand's hopes, with one Australian outlet offering $9.50 for a win.
Form guide (last 5 Tests, most recent first)Australia LDLDW
New Zealand DWLLD
Watch out for
Stuart Clark - In its current condition the Gabba is made for Clark, who was unable to do much but contain in India. Clark was dropped for the final Test in Nagpur, where Jason Krejza was preferred, but Australia will not make that mistake on a green surface that is filled with moisture following days of rain. With Clark's bounce, seam movement and pace, he will be a huge threat throughout the game. It will be good to see him back.
Jesse Ryder - Stocky and attacking, Ryder is the sort of player who Australian fans could like immediately. He picked up a virus in the warm-up loss against New South Wales, but showed he was recovering by batting in the second innings and bowling three overs. "We're really pleased with him," the captain Daniel Vettori said. "We understand how talented he is, now we're just trying to get that experience into him so he can be a good player for a long time." Ryder, who came in at No. 3, narrowly missed a maiden century in making 91 against Bangladesh last month, but this will be a much bigger assignment.
Cameron White is missing from the side that played the previous Test in Nagpur, with Andrew Symonds coming in after his return from a suspension that started when he went fishing in Darwin instead of attending a team meeting. Symonds moves straight back in at No. 6, despite only 70 runs in three Sheffield Shield games for Queensland, leaving Shane Watson to fight with Jason Krejza for a spot. The offspinner Krejza was rightly retained after taking 12 wickets on debut, but his place depends on the state of the pitch on Thursday morning.
Australia (probable) 1 Matthew Hayden, 2 Simon Katich, 3 Ricky Ponting (capt), 4 Michael Hussey, 5 Michael Clarke, 6 Andrew Symonds, 7 Shane Watson, 8 Brad Haddin (wk), 9 Brett Lee, 10 Mitchell Johnson, 11 Stuart Clark, 12 Jason Krejza.
New Zealand called in Peter Fulton and Gareth Hopkins as cover for Brendon McCullum (back and foot) and Jesse Ryder (virus) over the past week, so they have plenty of options. A seam-friendly pitch will lead to a packed pace attack that will have Vettori wondering how he will get a bowl. McCullum is confident he will be fit and the inexperienced team needs his all-round playing and leadership skills.
New Zealand (probable) 1 Aaron Redmond, 2 Jamie How, 3 Jesse Ryder, 4 Ross Taylor, 5 Brendon McCullum (wk), 6 Daniel Flynn, 7 Grant Elliott, 8 Daniel Vettori (capt), 9 Iain O'Brien, 10 Kyle Mills, 11 Chris Martin, 12 Tim Southee.
Pitch and conditions
Gabba and greentop usually go together for state games here, but the Test strip is generally weighted evenly between bat and ball. This time it will be more of a lottery and the toss could be as important as it is in India. The covers came off on Wednesday to show a green, but better than expected pitch.
"I was a bit worried this morning coming down here at what might have been underneath those covers, but I was pleasantly surprised when I had a look at it," Ponting said. "Right at the moment you probably think it will play like a day one Sheffield Shield wicket rather than a day one Test wicket, which we've been used to playing on for the last ten years up here."
Storms hit the city on Sunday night and the rain has stayed around - although there were sunny patches on the eve of the game - with the wet weather expect to ease by Friday. It would be a brave captain - like Mark Taylor or Steve Waugh - to bat first on Thursday.
Stats and Trivia
- New Zealand have not won a Test in Australia for 23 years and have had only two successes here. Both those triumphs came in 1985, starting with Richard Hadlee's 15 wickets at the Gabba in conditions similar to this week's.
- The last time Australia went four matches in a row without winning a Test was during the 2005 Ashes.
- Brett Lee, who took only eight wickets in India, is on 297 Test victims at an average of 30.44.
"The stats they've got would suggest that anything outside a flat wicket then the odds would swing to us a little bit more. You never know, they've got a fine bowling attack to so it's hard to put a finger on it."
Brendon McCullum hopes the conditions will favour the tourists
"We don't know how much cricket we're going to get in yet. I would expect us to win the series, whether that's 2-0 or 1-0. I have a lot of confidence in this group. Sure, we're smack bang in the middle of a rebuilding phase, and a lot of our players are still developing and working out ways to be successful at Test level, which I think was highlighted a lot in India. But this is still an exciting period for me as a captain."
Peter English is the Australasia editor of Cricinfo