Australia look to cap stellar season with victory in New Zealand

Pat Cummins's side will aim to lock away the Trans-Tasman Trophy before a well-earned break from international duties

Reuters
Published : 28 Feb 2024, 01:06 PM
Updated : 28 Feb 2024, 01:06 PM

World champions Australia will hope to round off one of the nation's most successful seasons in cricket with victory in a rare test series in New Zealand starting at Wellington's Basin Reserve on Thursday.

Having won a maiden World Test Championship (WTC), retained the Ashes and claimed a sixth 50-over World Cup title in a glorious six months, Pat Cummins's side will aim to lock away the Trans-Tasman Trophy before a well-earned break from international duties.

The brevity of the two-test series, the first between the nations in New Zealand since 2016, has prompted grumbling from fans in both nations.

Many would prefer a longer contest between the reigning WTC holders and the inaugural 2021 champions.

Australia, however, may be glad for the light load after slogging through five tests in the home summer following the World Cup triumph in India in November.

Their last test was a stunning defeat to the West Indies in Brisbane and a reminder to the world that Australia are, in fact, beatable.

New Zealand may have been glad for the reminder, having not beaten Australia in a test since Hobart in 2011.

On home soil against the Australians they have had even less joy, claiming their last test win in 1993 and their last series victory in 1986 when Richard Hadlee was in his pomp.

For all of New Zealand's achievements as a cricketing nation and their strong current roster, Tim Southee's side have proved unable to shake themselves free from Australia's psychological chokehold.

They enter the series as leaders in the current WTC cycle but also on the back foot against their neighbours, having been swept 3-0 in the lead-up T20 matches to lose the Chappell-Hadlee Trophy for the third time in succession.

Australia's first test tour in eight years has generated plenty of buzz, though, with the Wellington opener long sold out.

Fans will hope for a better show than in 2016 when Steve Smith's Australia swept the hosts 2-0 in home skipper Brendon McCullum's farewell series.

However, the odds would seem stacked against a New Zealand breakthrough.

Opener Devon Conway has been ruled out for at least the first test with a left thumb injury while batsman Rachin Ravindra and all-rounder Daryl Mitchell are carrying niggles.

Australia have the more settled lineup and selectors have kept faith with the same XI that were shocked by the West Indies.

If New Zealand are to have any hope, they must start well and look to exploit Australia's out-of-form batsmen.

Australia number three Marnus Labuschagne is under pressure after a dreadful series against the West Indies, while middle order batsman Travis Head is coming off consecutive ducks in the last test against the Caribbeans.

Like any big brother seeking to preserve the natural order in a game of backyard cricket, Australia tend to lift when playing their neighbours.

New Zealand will need to lift with them or see another long-awaited chance go begging.