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Tuesday, 29 November 2011

Pavopta preview: Australia vs New Zealand, 1st Test, Gabba, Dec 1-5 2011

It will be just over a year since England's epic 517-1 at the Gabba when Michael Clarke's Australia take on New Zealand at the same venue on Thursday morning in the first - and sadly penultimate - match of the sides' upcoming Test series. Only five of that Australia team, namely Clarke, Ponting, Hussey, Haddin and Siddle are likely to figure against the Black Caps and, though the crocked Watson (certainly) and Johnson (probably) would have played, this is very much an Australia set up in flux.

It's actually a flux in temporary transition itself because the home side will also be robbed of the services of 18-year-old pace spearhead - sorry, Mitch and Peter, but that's what he is - Patrick Cummins and the classy middle order left-hander Shaun Marsh, who made a century on debut when he hit 141 away against Sri Lanka back in September and who also does a fine line in attack dismantling in the shorter forms of the game (as England's ODI bowlers earlier this year and any bowler in the IPL 2008 will testify). The languid yet Saffer defying charms of Usman Khawaja will feature in Marsh's place with a thrusty, lusty young state speed triumvirate of Ben Cutting, James Pattinson and Mitchell Starc all vying for the places left open due to the aforementioned injuries as well as those of Ryan Harris and Doug Bollinger. Cutting is the local lad, more than nippy and may well get the nod.

Australia are going into the match with an opening pair of David Warner and Phil Hughes, which  looks potentially the most optimistic partnership since Kim Kardashian said 'I do'. Hughes's slip fodder technique was again found wanting in the South Africa Test series and the cynical might say that Warner doesn't even have a technique to be exposed. Hughes did, however, make a valuable 88 in the first innings of the Johannesburg Test and it's unlikely that the Kiwi pace duo of Chris Martin and Tim Southee will be able to induce his outside off wafts quite as readily as the Saffer attack, regardless of the Gabba's curator, Kevin Mitchell, promising us a spicy track unused for Tests in 15 run-sodden Brisbane years. For Warner's part, the selectors have apparently told him to 'go for broke', which may well be akin to wrapping all the china in red rags before letting the bull in, but if Virender Sehwag thinks he can be a Test batsman then perhaps he should be given the chance to charge away. 

The Kiwi batting line-up for its part does seem to have some shape to it for the first time in a while, with Martin Guptil, Brendan McMillan, the in (domestic) form Dean Brownlie, elegant's own Kane Williamson, skipper Ross Taylor and Jesse Ryder (if selected on the back of his world record equalling 16 sixes against Australia A) all players capable of taking advantage of an inexperienced home attack. Taylor himself averages over 45 against Australia and, through the same, well, unfussy approach he brings to captaincy as he does to his batting, will fancy his side's chances of rubbishing the decision to grant them only two Tests - the second is at Hobart - across the Tasman Sea. MS Dhoni's men arrive for four shortly after the Black Caps leave, but, given the current injury turmoil within the Aussie ranks, I'm going to go out on a limb and suggest there's more chance of seeing a Kiwi coup than an Indian insurrection down under this summer.

What you will see: More peroxide than a bleach fetishist's bathroom.
What you won't see: Much spin, although you might see Lyon having kittens again if things get tight (watch from 2.42)
Point of interest: Ricky Ponting - can he defy the doubters, logic and his own feet once again?

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