Sport New Zealand series will tell us just how far Australia have come

06:30  11 december  2019
06:30  11 december  2019 Source:   theage.com.au

Paine studies Kiwis while beating Pakistan

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a group of people posing for the camera: Justin Langer addresses the team during training at the WACA.© Getty Justin Langer addresses the team during training at the WACA.

How good is Australia?

While the question might, in other contexts, be taken as emptily rhetorical, a slogan for advertising (or self-advertising), fortunately we have the New Zealand cricket team to restore its solidity and meaning.

Precisely how good is the Australian team, sub-division men’s, sub-sub-division Test, right now?

New Zealand’s ICC ranking of second, three places above Australia, has drawn comparisons with the last Kiwi side to win here 34 years ago. That team was built around two towers of talent, Martin Crowe and Richard Hadlee, arguably the world’s best in their disciplines at the time.

Aussie talking points from Pakistan series

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Australia – New Zealand relations, also referred to as Trans-Tasman relations ("relations across the Tasman Sea"), are extremely close and important.

Travel from Australia to New Zealand by air if you're in a hurry, or cruise on over of you've the time and money for a long and lovely boat voyage. And the topography is very different, with larger Australia having a huge desert heart, while New Zealand 's coastal plains surround forested mountains.

a baseball player holding a bat on a field: Kane Williamson is clearly a cut above.© AP Kane Williamson is clearly a cut above.

The current team has a flatter management structure. Kane Williamson is every bit Crowe’s equal, but he enjoys top-order support from Tom Latham and Ross Taylor, and also a deep-girthed batting line-up, as B.J. Watling and Mitchell Santner recently proved against England.

There is no Hadlee among the bowlers, but Trent Boult, Tim Southee and Neil Wagner have just out-bowled Jofra Archer and Stuart Broad in a Test series, while Santner ought to be a reliable miser in the heat.

Claims that this is the best New Zealand team to tour here might not be purely optimistic.

The question, really, is how good is Australia.

In the mid-eighties, those New Zealanders had only to beat Allan Border. Australia had a team with an unusually high quota of humourists, rogue elements and future after-dinner speakers. Their on-field performances made Hadlee and Crowe look like champions, while also managing to make Bruce Edgar, John Reid and Jeremy Coney look world-class. Those Kiwis definitely caught Australia at the right time.

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Today’s Australia would appear on the rise after last year’s low-water mark in South Africa and the subsequent home loss to India, but New Zealand offer a genuine measurement of where they lie.

Australia’s past year has been more a question of how good is Steve Smith? Through his absence, against India, and then his presence, against England, Smith settled that question. But for Australia to show authentic progress out of their mid-table stasis, they must prove themselves across the board, in batting and bowling, against this New Zealand team.

There is no gainsaying it: only if they beat the Kiwis, which will require consistency and depth of performance, can Australia post any claim to be back among the top tier.

Perth’s forecast heat will influence the first match, as much as Melbourne’s impossible-to-forecast pitch will influence the second. (Let’s hope Sydney gets a rare live rubber, as well as a smoke-free one.)

Kiwis not scared of Aussie Test pace stars

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Perth temperatures reaching more than 40 degrees ought not provide the home-team advantage they once did. No Australian cricketer really enjoys that kind of heat. And nor should the New Zealanders, who won their last Test series in the United Arab Emirates, be expected to wilt. The only certainty is that the pitch will break up and there will be extra-extra drinks breaks, on top of the extra drinks breaks that cricket already tolerates.

The duel in the sun is not really between Smith and Williamson. Comparing the two masters will provide enjoyment for cricket fans, but the real challenge will be to the stamina and fitness of both bowling attacks, and the respective abilities of Nathan Lyon and Santner to sustain pressure in long spells.

As a pink-ball Test match, the game is something of a curate’s egg: due to eastern states television requirements, it will be a day-night match played almost entirely during the day. So the suddenly conducive bowling conditions we saw in Adelaide won’t necessarily apply.

You wouldn’t want to be a bowler out there, or, for that matter, a batsman.

How hot is Australia?

Let’s hope, for reasons of player safety and the standard of the cricket, that it’s only the ice-creams that go into meltdown.

Legend reveals NZ's big problem in Australia .
Mark Taylor runs his eye over the New Zealand squad and comes up with one big question mark ahead of the first Test.Fresh off a 1-0 home series win over England and currently ranked No.2 in the world, the New Zealand side is looking to match the achievements of the 1985 team that recorded a 2-1 victory in Australia, the only time in 12 attempts the Kiwis have won a Test series in this country.

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