New-look Australia remain favourites against New Zealand
Australia are still favourites in this Test and should win the series. But New Zealand have a sniff. They haven't won a Test in Australia in 26 years, back when Richard Hadlee was at his peak and Allan Border's Australians were struggling.
December 1-5, Brisbane
Start time: 10:00 am Local (05:30 am IST)
First things first: Australia are still favourites in this Test and should win the series. But New Zealand have a sniff. They haven't won a Test in Australia in 26 years, back when Richard Hadlee was at his peak and Allan Border's Australians were struggling at the start of their rebuilding phase. New Zealand are far from their peak right now - they nearly lost to Zimbabwe a month ago and sit eighth on the Test rankings - but Australia are not far from their mid 1980s position. They are coming off a fine victory in Johannesburg less than a fortnight ago, but at least three of the men who played in that win are out of this Test, including the Man of the Match Pat Cummins.
Australia will play at least three debutants at the Gabba. David Warner will open in the absence of Shane Watson; James Pattinson is expected to share the new ball with Peter Siddle; and either Mitchell Starc or Ben Cutting will come on at first change. The captain Michael Clarke even hinted that there was a chance all four fast men might play if the pitch looked as "green and juicy" on the morning of the match as it did two days before. That could mean a rest for the off-spinner Nathan Lyon, who before this week had never even visited the Gabba, let alone played there. There is also a new coach, Mickey Arthur, who has spent barely a week in the job and is still finding his feet.
Not that New Zealand are much more settled. This will be the second Test for the fast bowler Doug Bracewell and the batsman Dean Brownlie, while the wicketkeeper Reece Young is also in his first year of Test cricket. Like Australia, New Zealand have a new selection panel, installed by their director of cricket, John Buchanan, a man who coached four of the opposition players during his time in charge of Australia. Their bowling coach Damien Wright is also Australian, and the players will look for advice from him on working at the Gabba, which is expected to have extra bounce compared to Allan Border Field, where three of their batsmen scored centuries during the tour match.
Yes, New Zealand have a chance, perhaps the best chance they've had in Australia for a decade, since Stephen Fleming led them to a 0-0 draw in 2001. But Ross Taylor's side is still learning how to win - they have won only four of their past 28 Tests - and they need everything to go right to upset the hosts.
Form guide (most recent first)
New Zealand: WDLLD
In the spotlight
Two years ago, the thought of David Warner in a baggy green cap seemed as far-fetched as Australia appointing a foreign coach. How times change. Warner will make his Test debut with less than 1000 first-class runs to his name, but importantly he is in form. All three of his first-class hundreds have come this calendar year and if he stays at the crease for a session, New Zealand's bowlers will see the total tick over at a rapid rate. Significantly, if Warner succeeds in this series, he could contribute to squeezing Ricky Ponting out of the Test line-up when Shane Watson returns from injury.
On the subject of powerful left-hand batsman, the inclusion of Jesse Ryder is a major boost to New Zealand. Ryder missed the Test against Zimbabwe due to a calf strain but showed his class in the warm-up match against Australia A in Brisbane, where he was one of three centurions. New Zealand look a much more dangerous side when Ryder is fit, and having scored three hundreds, all against India, in his past ten Tests, he will be keen to prove he can have the same impact against Australia.
Pitch and conditions
Even in last year's disastrous Ashes campaign, the Gabba remained impenetrable for Australia's opponents. The hosts have not lost a Test in Brisbane since 1988, when Malcolm Marshall, Curtly Ambrose, Courtney Walsh and Patrick Patterson bowled West Indies to victory. There is always plenty of seam and bounce at the Gabba, and captains can be tempted to send the opposition in. The forecast is for thunder and rain on the opening day, while showers could also fall on the final two days.
Australia's only decision surrounds the make-up of their attack. Siddle will lead the pace group and is expected to be joined by the outswing bowler Pattinson and one of Cutting and Starc. However, on the day before the Test, Clarke wrote in his newspaper column that leaving out the offspinner Nathan Lyon in favour of a four-man pace attack was also a possibility. "I prefer playing a spinner and I like to bat first," Clarke wrote, "but if conditions remain as they are, we will think very seriously about playing all four fast bowlers."
Australia (probable) 1 David Warner, 2 Phillip Hughes, 3 Usman Khawaja, 4 Ricky Ponting, 5 Michael Clarke (capt), 6 Michael Hussey, 7 Brad Haddin (wk), 8 Peter Siddle, 9 James Pattinson, 10 Nathan Lyon, 11 Mitchell Starc / Ben Cutting.
New Zealand are likely to make just one change from the side that played in the tour match, with Daniel Vettori set to come in for Trent Boult.
New Zealand (probable) 1 Martin Guptill, 2 Brendon McCullum, 3 Kane Williamson, 4 Ross Taylor (capt), 5 Jesse Ryder, 6 Dean Brownlie, 7 Daniel Vettori, 8 Reece Young (wk), 9 Doug Bracewell, 10 Tim Southee, 11 Chris Martin.
Stats & trivia
- Australia will have at least three Test debutants, bringing to at least nine the number of baggy greens handed out in 2011. The last time so many debutants played in a calendar year was during the World Series Cricket days, in 1978.
- If Pattinson debuts, he and his brother Darren, who represented England, will become the first siblings to play Test cricket for different nations in 112 years
- New Zealand's tense recent win against Zimbabwe was their fourth victory in 28 Tests. The other wins in that time have come against Bangladesh (twice) and Pakistan.
- In their past four series against Ausralia, New Zealand have lost eight Tests and drawn one. Their last win against Australia came in 1993.
"The extra pace, bounce and movement the Gabba can generate will give our fast bowlers every chance of making a significant impression"
Michael Clarke believes New Zealand will find it hard to score as freely as they did in the warm-up match at Allan Border Field
"We're just building quietly. I feel we've gathered a little bit of confidence from that first trip to Zimbabwe, when we were together nearly a month, then coming here after some good performances in first-class cricket at home."
New Zealand's coach, John Wright