First Test – starts 10:00am local time on Thursday, November 5, 2015 at the Gabba, Brisbane
$1.72 at Bet365.com
ICC Test ranking: 2nd
Last series: 3-2 defeat in England
$3.90 at www.Sportsbet.com
ICC Test ranking: 6th
Last series: 1-1 draw in England
The Trans-Tasman rivalry is reaching peak niggle ahead of this week’s series opener in Brisbane, and it should come as no surprise whatsoever that David Warner is right at the heart of it.
The fiery Australian opener took aim this week at New Zealand captain Brendon McCullum, who wrote back in September that Steven Smith “showed his immaturity” when he refused to withdraw a controversial appeal against England’s Ben Stokes for obstructing the ball.
“In my opinion it was something that was quite poor and immature on his behalf, to actually make the comment about Steve,” Warner told the press earlier this week.
“For one, as an international cricketer I don’t see the need or the right for a current cricket captain to write columns on another series. After I read the first one I didn’t really pay attention to what he was saying.
“His opinion is going to be heard worldwide but you can’t be talking about the players the way he did.
“At the end of the day he’s the captain and you’ve got to respect Brendon, he’s done a great job with the Kiwis and he’s trying to make them the world’s politest team, and well done to him.”
Smith himself was rather more succinct when questioned about McCullum’s comments.
“Yeah I was a little bit disappointed,” the new Australian captain told the media. “I didn’t really think it was any of his business.”
While things heat up off the field, punters and pundits alike are expecting a fascinating series on it.
Australia are $1.53 favourites at online bookmaker William Hill to win the Trans-Tasman Trophy, while CrownBet.com is paying $4.50 for New Zealand and $7 for a drawn series.
But right now the focus is on the Gabba, where the visitors have not won a Test since 1985.
The Aussies ($1.72 at Bet365) are understandably the frontrunners in the match betting, but the Kiwis ($3.90 at Sportsbet) have something they’ve not brought in previous series: genuine firepower with the ball.
While they won’t have the raw pace of Adam Milne, who regularly clocks 150kph, they will have both Trent Boult and Tim Southee – arguably the best new-ball pair in New Zealand’s history.
They also boast plenty of depth with the bat, most notably through a middle order which features McCullum, Ross Taylor and Kane Williamson.
That sets up a tantalising shootout against the likes of Josh Hazlewood, Mitchell Johnson and especially Mitchell Starc, who has taken 75 international wickets this year – more than any other bowler in the world.
Starc has often struggled to adjust to the demands of Test match cricket, but Australia coach Darren Lehmann has backed the tall left-armer to silence his doubters this summer.
“He’ll be fine, I think it’s just experience and confidence,” Lehmann said.
“He’s had some really good spells for us over the last 12 months with the red ball. It’s probably about being really consistent with what he wants to achieve, getting the lengths and lines right. He was very good at stages in England and then sometimes he leaked too many runs.
“I expect him to bowl really well with the red ball [against New Zealand].”
Another Aussie looking to make a lasting impact on the Test arena in Usman Khawaja, who returns to the Baggy Greens’ batting order after a two-year exile from international cricket.
The 28-year-old mollydooker has averaged 69.92 at the Gabba while batting at first drop for Queensland, and Lehmann said he had no qualms about playing him above Smith in the order.
“Khawaja has been successful at three, so we have given him the opportunity to bat where he does for his state, give him first crack,” Lehmann said.
He added: “We know he is a great technician and he has time which is important at this level.
“He knows conditions well here at the Gabba – the time is right for him to perform.”
Australia team news
For all the talk of a new beginning under a new captain, there will be no fresh faces in Australia’s first 11 at the Gabba.
Joe Burns will return along with Khawaja, edging out West Australian youngster Cameron Bancroft in the race for Chris Rogers’ old opening slot.
Smith has confirmed that he will slide down to number four, while Adam Voges, Mitch Marsh and wicketkeeper Peter Nevill will complete the middle order.
The only real question is whether Josh Hazlewood or Peter Siddle will join Starc, Johnson and Nathan Lyon in the Aussie bowling attack, although most pundits are favouring the former.
Possible Australian XI: Warner, Burns, Khawaja, Smith (C), Voges, M. Marsh, Nevill, Johnson, Starc, Lyon, Hazlewood.
New Zealand team news
The 15-man Black Caps squad will look only a little different to the one which performed so well on their tour of England earlier this year.
Star all-rounder Corey Anderson has withdrawn through injury, which could see Luke Ronchi installed as wicketkeeper and BJ Watling promoted to number six – a move which proved fruitful in the Kiwis’ 199-run win at Leeds in May.
On a bouncy, bowler-friendly deck like Brisbane, however, it’s more likely the NZ selectors will pick James Neesham as a like-for-like replacement for Anderson.
Either Doug Bracewell or Matt Henry will start alongside Boult and Southee as the third seamer, while Mark Craig will probably beat the uncapped Mitchell Santner to the spinner’s spot.
Possible New Zealand XI: Latham, Guptill, Williamson, Taylor, McCullum (C), Neesham, Watling, Craig, Southee, Boult, Bracewell.
1st Test Match predictions
Result – Australia to win ($1.72 at www.Bet365.com)
Highest opening partnership – Australia ($1.77 at Luxbet)
Man of the match – Mitchell Starc ($8.50 at CrownBet.com)
While the Kiwis should provide a cracker contest this summer, Australia’s record at Brisbane is something else.
The Baggy Greens haven’t lost a Test match there since 1988, and we – along with the bookies and the betting public in general – expect that to remain intact.
Smith and company will be desperate to start the post-Michael Clarke era on a good note, while one suspects the visitors’ aggressive batting style may not be ideally suited to the signature pace and movement of the Gabba wicket.
Weather is always a concern in Queensland at this time of year, however, so a draw ($5 at William Hill) might not be a bad bet if the rain hits.
Top team batsman odds
Steven Smith ($3.25 at CrownBet)
With a Test average of 56.27, the newly appointed captain is undoubtedly Australia’s best bet. The drop to number four shouldn’t affect him too much, regardless of how well (or how poorly) the new-look top order plays.
Usman Khawaja ($6.50 at William Hill)
His Test stats aren’t terrific, but Khawaja has made the Gabba his own in Sheffield Shield cricket over the past few seasons. Now injury-free and with plenty of first-class runs behind him, the adopted Queenslander could hardly ask for a better opportunity to announce his return to the top level.
Kane Williamson ($4 at CrownBet)
At only 25 years of age, this guy is already being touted as one of New Zealand’s all-time greats. He’s a terrific compiler of innings who can play shots all around the ground, so Australia’s quicks will have to bowl especially well to keep him quiet.
BJ Watling ($12 at CrownBet)
While not an explosive player like McCullum or Taylor, the Kiwi ‘keeper is a consistent contributor in the lower middle order. He’s a fighter who has a handy habit of putting together important partnerships, so he could be the man to step up if NZ find themselves in strife.
Best team bowler betting
Mitchell Starc ($3 at CrownBet)
The NSW quick was all but unplayable throughout the recent Matador Cup, taking 23 wickets in only six matches. He also bagged eight in the Sheffield Shield last week, so he should be primed to bring that form into the Test arena.
Josh Hazlewood ($5 at Sportsbet)
The 24-year-old seamer might not have featured at all this summer had Pat Cummins stayed fit, but he is hotly tipped to get the nod here. You certainly can’t knock his form at Brisbane, where he took five wickets on debut against India last year.
Trent Boult ($3.50 at CrownBet)
What Starc is for Australia, Boult is for New Zealand – but with a much better record in Test cricket. The 26-year-old from Rotorua can make the ball move in any conditions, but the seam-friendly nature of the Gabba should make him especially dangerous.
Tim Southee ($4 at Bet365)
The other half of the Kiwi strike-force may not be as classical or as consistent as Boult, but he is every bit as deadly when he’s on song. While he can be expensive when he doesn’t find the right areas, Southee does have a habit of taking big bags of wickets.
2015 Australia vs. New Zealand Test fixtures
First Test – November 5-9 at the Gabba, Brisbane
Second Test – November 13-17 at the WACA, Perth
Third Test – November 27-December 1 at Adelaide Oval
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