PERTH: Expectations were high for New Zealand this time four years ago. Led by Brendon McCullum and boasting an impressive recent record, they arrived in Australia hopeful of a first Test series win across the Tasman since 1985, against a home team starting out in the wake of a raft of retirements at the end of an unsuccessful 2015 Ashes tour.
Save for a high scoring draw at the WACA Ground, the visitors were to head home defeated and disappointed, unable to get the wickets they needed on docile surfaces and winkled out one by one by Australia’s taller, faster-bowling attack with help from Nathan Lyon. A similar tale was to be told in New Zealand early the following year.
In 2019, New Zealand’s leadership has been passed on to Kane Williamson, and if anything the record they bring to Australia this time around is still more compelling, ranked No. 2 to India in Tests and World Cup finalists for the second consecutive 50-over tournament in England this year.
Yet the same questions asked of New Zealand in 2015 remain to be asked by many of the same performers. David Warner, Steven Smith, Mitchell Starc, Josh Hazlewood and Nathan Lyon are all arguably better cricketers now than they were then, bolstered by the subsequent inclusion and exploits of Pat Cummins. Equally, the supporting cast looks to be a strong one, whether Marnus Labuschagne at No. 3, the captain Tim Paine behind the stumps or a mature Matthew Wade marshaling the middle order.
One of the significant factors that held New Zealand back in 2015 was that Trent Boult was not at his best following injury, and he finds himself in a similar territory this time around. One potential difference is the pace and aggression of Lockie Ferguson, who might be capable of adding the spice that appeared missing four years ago. Either way, New Zealand will have fresh memories of 2015 as they contemplate Perth Stadium, and the story of this series will most likely be told in how much better they are at dealing with familiar challenges.
PITCH AND CONDITIONS
The Perth Stadium pitch has plenty of grass on top and some moisture underneath, but in the prevailing conditions – temperatures are expected to hit 40C in Perth on each of the first four days – there is the likelihood of deterioration and cracking on a surface baked hard by the sun.