Conditions key as Australia and New Zealand renew rivalry
Nearly a year ago, Australia arrived at Eden Park for their only away match of the World Cup. The 55-metre straight boundaries had their batsmen licking their lips and their bowlers scratching their heads. Big scores were expected. Instead, Trent Boult and Mitchell Starc provided a reminder that if the ball is swinging the boundary size is irrelevant, as they rattled stumps throughout the game. In all, 19 wickets fell for 303 runs.
This time there is no Starc, as he continues to recover from ankle surgery, though Boult is available for New Zealand. In fact, none of Australia's three frontline bowlers from that match will be playing - Pat Cummins is also injured and Mitchell Johnson has retired. Instead, the pace attack will be made up of some combination of Josh Hazlewood, John Hastings, Scott Boland, Kane Richardson, James Faulkner and Mitchell Marsh, who played in that game but bowled only one over.
Swing will again be key in Wednesday's match, the first in a three-game Chappell-Hadlee series ahead of the two Tests. Australia are coming off a 4-1 series win at home against India, in matches where 295 was the lowest first-innings score made, and New Zealand are coming off a 2-0 win over Pakistan, which ended with Sunday's win at Eden Park, where Pakistan made 290 and New Zealand chased a Duckworth-Lewis target of 263 inside 43 overs.
Australia's recent form against India will give them confidence that they can chase almost any target on the smaller grounds in New Zealand, although that will also depend on what kind of pitches are served up after the flat tracks in Australia. Faulkner, who was Man of the Match in the World Cup final against New Zealand but missed the Auckland game through injury, said conditions would determine whether this series swayed towards enormous totals or lower ones.
"There's no reason why... teams can't get 350 or 400," Faulkner said. "A lot of it just comes down to conditions. If it's swinging around, which we think it would over there, the ball will be moving like it did throughout the World Cup. It's obviously a lot tougher and early wickets tend to fall. Every team at the moment is setting up to go hard in the first 10, consolidate through the middle and try and have wickets in the shed to try and launch.
"Especially with the smaller boundaries, I think if you find the ball isn't moving, there will be high scores. But if it is, it's obviously a lot tougher for the opening batsmen to adjust. More times than not at the moment 300 tends to be the base and every run over that is so valuable because every single batter in most teams can bat these days, so it makes it really tough for the bowlers."
Faulkner himself was reminded of the challenges faced by bowlers in ODI cricket last month against India, when he leaked more than a run a ball throughout the series. However, the Australians still managed to win the series comfortably due to the success of their batsmen, and Faulkner noted that the evolution of the one-day game had meant bowlers had to accept that their figures would balloon significantly compared to a few years ago.
"I think it's just the way the game has changed," he said. "When the first rule came out with only four fielders outside the circle and the Powerplay between 35 and 40, it really shook the game up and I think initially it was a bit of a shock - a lot of people were seeing bowlers going for 70 or 80 off their 10 overs and thinking gee they've been whacked around the park compared to what it used to be back in the day of 40-45.
"I think it's just the public and all the players understanding how the game has evolved and T20 has had a hell of a lot to do with that. I think every bowler depending on where they're bowling, whether it's up front, whether it's at the death or through the middle, will have their own little goals but I think now people aren't really looking at how many runs necessarily; it's about when they are bowling and how successful they are to certain batters at certain times.
"I've definitely noticed it at the back end in particular, when you've got wickets in hand, it's so hard to defend. It doesn't matter how good you are and if you execute, teams can still hit you for a minimum of 10-12 runs an over. So if you're going into the last 10 only two down, if you're not getting 100 plus off that I don't think you've done well enough with the bat."
The success of Australia's batsmen against India meant that Faulkner's batting was hardly required during the series, although he did play one key innings during the win at the MCG, seeing Australia home in their chase alongside Glenn Maxwell. Faulkner's finishing with the bat could be important for Australia at the World T20 in India next month and while the selectors may consider form in this ODI series when choosing that squad, Faulkner said his focus was purely on the ODIs.
"I just think it's going to be a great series all around," he said. "I think obviously after both teams playing in the World Cup final and what New Zealand achieved... I'm expecting a really tough series. I think you're going to see a really good brand of cricket with bat and ball, and a really good fierce competition."
Brydon Coverdale is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. @brydoncoverdale