Sport Cricket Cricket: Revitalised Trans-Tasman rivalry offers a cracking Test series
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Cricket: Revitalised Trans-Tasman rivalry offers a cracking Test series

Black Caps' captain Kane Williamson and Australian skipper Tim Paine with the trophy for the three-Test series. Photo: AAP
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The bonds between Australian and New Zealand are so deep that one wonders why a passport is required when the Black Caps visit our shores.

Indeed, Thursday afternoon’s First Test will open in Perth with an on-field acknowledgement of the tragedy at White Island, which has again reinforced bonds of friendship through trial and strife.

And while Australian coach Justin Langer said the tragedy “puts a Test into huge perspective”, it also offers the chance to reaffirm a commitment to maintaining those bonds.

That New Zealand has gone decades without featuring in a Test match at the MCG and SCG is a wrong that will be put right in coming weeks and the world’s No.2 team will be keen to make the big stage its own.

But it’s a huge task, with three days of 40 degree-plus temperatures and with the hosts having warmed up with a recent pink-ball Test against Pakistan on a friendly pitch.

Both teams have been through difficult sporting times, but in recent years have remade themselves – the Black Caps from also rans and the Australians from disgrace.

The Australians, under the leadership of Tim Paine, have emerged from the Cape Town debacle with a renewed sense of what is at stake when representing one’s country.

Retaining the Ashes and finally settling on a winning combination through the Pakistan series sees the home side more settled than it has been for several years.

Paine said on Wednesday said there was no need to change a winning combination.

“We’ve been playing some really good cricket. Happy with the way it’s going, so we’re trying to get a consistent team together. And as I touched on after Adelaide, the great thing is we’ve got guys that are performing really well,” Paine said.

“That’s what we wanted so we’re going to go with the same team.”

New Zealand has gone 33 months without a Test series defeat, having last been toppled by South Africa in March 2017.

NZ’s Ross Taylor and Kane Williamson at the second Test against England. Photo: AAP

“There has certainly been a change over the past 18 months,” Paine said.

“The quality of player in our team now, when I first went to Dubai as captain, we didn’t have (Steve) Smith or (David) Warner or two of our quicks.

“(Josh) Hazlewood is back in, (Pat) Cummins is back in, Smith and Warner are back in. I think that changes the group dynamic and breeds some confidence into some other guys.

“The vibe around our group since the Ashes, or during the Ashes to now has been really good.

It’s been a really enjoyable place to play your cricket. And I think we’re starting to see the results from that.’’

But they are well aware New Zealand will prove a different challenge.

Thursday’s Test will be as difficult as any across the summer.

Temperatures are expected to soar, while the pink ball offered little assistance during the day in Adelaide.

It could make for some very tough Test cricket against a Black Caps side that boasts centuries from the top of its order down to Mitchell Santner at No.8.

“We played some bloody good cricket against Pakistan and we want to continue that,” Paine said.

“We’re just looking forward to a really good team – the second-best team in the world coming to our backyard and testing us.

“That has basically been my message to the team, if we continue to play the way we are, we will have some success.

The Australians celebrate after winning the first Test at the Gabba. Photo: AAP

“It’s just against the better teams we are going to have to do what we do against Pakistan for longer periods.”

This series is also New Zealand’s biggest Test during the run, as it looks to topple the Aussies at home for the first time in 34 years.

“The Aussies are always a really tough opposition to face in their own backyard. They are very clinical,” captain Kane Williamson said.

“It’s more about the cricket we want to play coming into it, and focus on what’s important for our team.”

The key battles

NEIL WAGNER v STEVE SMITH

Wagner left a lasting impression on Smith the last time the two crossed paths when he levelled him with a ball that thumped into the back of the Australian’s helmet. Smith hit 138 in the Christchurch Test in 2016, but Wagner was the man to eventually knock him over. He’ll need to get on top of him again this summer for the tourists.

TRENT BOULT v DAVID WARNER

Warner is in record-breaking form and Boult is in significant doubt for the first Test. But when he does get on the field Boult could trouble the Australian opener.

David Warner hits out at the Adelaide Oval.

The left-armer is a known swinger of the ball and his angle from over the wicket may be an issue for the opener.

BOWLERS v FLAT PITCHES

Both sides could struggle to get a bit out of the wickets in Perth, Melbourne and Sydney despite having top-class attacks. The pink ball offered very little during the day in Adelaide as players claimed it went soft very early. Melbourne’s pitch problems are well known, while Sydney has also had issues in recent years, with bat dominating ball at both grounds.

MITCHELL STARC v KANE WILLIAMSON and ROSS TAYLOR

There is no one better with the pink ball than Starc and he’ll be called upon to rattle New Zealand’s top order in Perth.

Mitchell Starc has the NZ batsmen in his sights. Photo: Getty

His 33 wickets at 21.54 is the best of any bowler in day-night Tests, but the likes of Williamson and Taylor will offer formidable resistance. The result in Perth could be crucial for New Zealand’s confidence, particularly if Melbourne and Perth are flat pitches.

MITCHELL SANTNER v AUSTRALIA’S BATSMEN

Touring spinners traditionally don’t enjoy bowling in Australia, and Santner needs to break that curse. Only five frontline spinners have averaged below 30 in a summer in Australia this decade, with the Aussie batsmen traditionally dining out. Santner has played just one Test in Australia – taking a wicket in both innings of the Adelaide day-night match four years ago.

-with AAP