Australia’s cricketers have arrived in Melbourne before the Boxing Day Test, with opener David Warner warning New Zealand’s bowlers that short-ball tactics may not get their job done.
Veteran curator Les Burdett has said the much-maligned MCG pitch will have more life this year, but Warner says the tourists will run a risk if they persist with so-called bodyline tactics.
Warner is adamant the Australian batsmen are clear about how to deal with New Zealand’s short-pitch deliveries, particularly given the pitch will be unlikely to offer the same pace as the Perth deck, where Australia still managed a 296-run victory.
The Australian batsmen were often caught out by bouncers and on the pull shot, and also had the difficulty of playing under lights.
All of Australia’s top six fell to short balls in the second innings in Perth.
At the MCG, the pitch has been under scrutiny since the abandonment of a Shield match earlier this month because it was all but unplayable for the batsmen.
With veteran former Adelaide Oval curator Burdett brought in to advise on the preparation, he told the ABC the MCG pitch had been improved by removing the drop-in pitch concrete base and replacing it with sand.
“The roots of any cricket pitch are the drying mechanism for the plant and soil, whilst the plant is living and breathing it is sucking the moisture out,” Burdett said.
“Before, [the roots] were sitting on the concrete slab and basically the plant was dehydrating.
“I’m 99.99 per cent sure that this is going to be a Test match worth watching at Boxing Day this year because the situation has changed.”
Arriving in Melbourne with his family, Warner said the Black Caps risked losing the best of the pitch conditions if they just bowled short.
“If they’re talking about it being a green wicket and they bowl short, then you are probably wasting it, aren’t you?” said Warner, who scored a hundred in his last Boxing Day Test.
For us it’s just another game and if Wags (Kiwi paceman Neil Wagner) does what he does normally, then we just have to play it accordingly.’’
New Zealand said after Perth it would consider the Melbourne wicket before deciding if it would continue with the tactic.
New Zealand’s pace bowlers offer the Australian batsmen a different challenge, given most of the Aussies bowl at around 145km/h, where the likes of Neil Wagner and Tim Southee average closer to around 130km/h.
Wagner’s height is also an issue. While Australia’s first-choice pace battery are each 190cm or taller, left-armer Wagner is around 180cm.
“For us it’s usually ducking a ball at 150km/h. It is a little bit awkward with the height he (Wagner) comes from,” Warner said.
“It’s at a pace where you think you genuinely can play at it, then you’ve got enough time to get out of the way.
“With the field they set, you can play the percentages. It’s very difficult to try and score. You can score if it’s in the right line.
“From a left-hander’s point of view coming around the wicket, you’ve got so many catchers but you’ve got no power to get onto the ball from this sort of angle.
“It’s just a matter of biding your time and if one comes off your hip you can try and rotate it. You’ve got to have in the back of your mind what the game plan is.”
Meanwhile, New Zealand may have shown its hand before the second Test by opening with Tom Blundell in a warm-up match against a Victoria XI in place of Jeet Raval.
Raval has averaged just 7.3 in his past nine Test innings, and scored just one in each innings in Perth.
Blundell is a back-up wicketkeeper but also New Zealand’s only other batting option in the touring party, where the Black Caps have no other recognised openers.
The 29-year-old has played just two Tests, both against the West Indies in 2017.
The Black Caps’ top seven is otherwise unchanged from the Perth Test.
New Zealand is batting first in the practice match, which will be played as an unlimited overs match for just one day on Sunday.
Originally scheduled as a two-day match, the opening day at Scotch College was abandoned on Friday due to extreme heat.
Left-arm quick Trent Boult is playing for the Victorian side, in a bid to get some much-needed bowling time before the Melbourne Test.
The New Zealand dangerman hasn’t featured since hurting his ribs and side in a Test against England last month.
Boult is, however, expected to be fit for Thursday’s Test, and had Tom Latham caught at mid off early in play on Sunday.
Australia has brought paceman James Pattinson into the side to replace the hamstrung Josh Hazlewood.