Raw Australia face another swing test
Sixty all out. If Australia forgot about that depressing figure during their home summer, they should dredge the memory back up. Denial is rarely a successful coping strategy; it is best to own up to your problems and learn from them. It would be easy to pretend everything was fine after first-innings totals of 4 for 556, 9 for 559, 4 for 583, and 3 for 551 during their home Tests in November and December. On flat pitches against straight balls, Australia's batsmen looked invincible.
But for peaks to exist there must also be troughs. In Nottingham last August, Stuart Broad moved the ball around just enough to destroy Australia and secure England the Ashes. In the previous Test at Edgbaston they had been rolled for 136. At Lord's two years earlier it was 128. Go back a few years earlier and you have all-out 47 in Cape Town, all-out 88 against Pakistan in Leeds, albeit with different personnel. For swing and seam bowlers against Australia, it's a move-a-ball feast.
So, what will Australia's batsmen face over the next fortnight in New Zealand? It is worth noting that none of their squad members have played a Test there, and perhaps the only thing greener in New Zealand conditions is the pitch at the Basin Reserve. Two days out from the Test, it was hard to distinguish which one from the wicket square was to be used, such was the consistent grass cover. But the Basin pitch traditionally flattens out and becomes better for batting.
Last summer, New Zealand were knocked over by Sri Lanka for 221 in the first innings, but in the second they piled on 524 for 5, thanks to a world-record sixth-wicket stand from Kane Williamson and BJ Watling. The previous year, India rolled New Zealand for 192 on the first day but another mammoth second-innings stand, this time from Watling and Brendon McCullum, and they racked up 680 for 8.
"The ball will swing for a lot longer than what it does in Australia," Australia's vice-captain David Warner said on Wednesday. "The wickets were pretty flat, I'd have to say, in Australia. Looking at the wicket here it looks nice and green, but that's irrelevant. I don't think the ball will do much off the wicket. It will swing around a lot, and obviously with two world-class swing bowlers in the attack it's going to be a challenge for us guys at the top of the order."
It will be especially fascinating if Australia bat first and find themselves facing up to hooping deliveries from Tim Southee and Trent Boult. Without a red-ball warm-up match they have had no chance to get used to the New Zealand conditions other than in one-day internationals, where they have naturally looked to score quickly. Patience will be key early but at least they will face the familiar Kookaburra and not the Dukes of England, which generally swings for longer.
"It's like when we go to England, you have to adapt very fast, you don't want to get too far ahead of yourselves," Warner said. "Look at Trent Bridge, it was swinging around, you don't want those memories back again. We just have to adapt to whatever we face on game day."
Remarkably, given Australia's loss of the Ashes last year and the struggles they have had away from home in recent years, Steven Smith's side will jump to No.1 in the Test rankings if they win the series in New Zealand. Smith is the only member of the squad who was also on the previous tour in 2010 but he was on work experience back then, and did not win his baggy green until later that year. It means a significant advantage for New Zealand in terms of knowing the conditions.
"It's probably been a while since a side's come to New Zealand without having any experience of playing Test cricket here," Southee said. "It's something foreign for them and I guess there is a slight edge there for us if we can make the most of it. But they're a quality side and they've got quality players and they've got a big series on the line, if they win this they can go to No.1 in the world."
Of course, Australia are not the only team that has had trouble winning away from home. In recent years South Africa have been the only side that has been able to do so consistently, and New Zealand themselves failed to adapt quickly enough to the Australian conditions when they visited earlier in the summer. It was not until the day-night Test in Adelaide at the end of the tour that their bowlers looked close to their best.
"We didn't start too well in Australia but the second half of the series we bowled a lot better," Southee said. "It showed in the back end of that series, we didn't ask some questions [earlier] and when we get it right we can be dangerous in any conditions. It just shows if you're a little bit off, sides can capitalise on that. Coming back to conditions that we are familiar with and we've had a lot of success it is a nice feeling."
Southee himself enters this Test under an injury cloud, having suffered a foot injury during an ODI against Sri Lanka on December 31. However, he returned in the Plunket Shield for Northern Districts last week and is confident he will be fit for the Test. "I'm pretty good, I got through that four-day game unscathed," Southee said, "so hopefully I get through today and scrub up all right tomorrow."
Brydon Coverdale is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. @brydoncoverdale