Boxing Day Test: Australia fine with five!
Australian skipper Tim Paine mulls five specialist bowlers v New Zealand but says team ready for any scenario
Australia could play five specialist bowlers against New Zealand during the second Test, captain Tim Paine said Wednesday, with the decision being left until the last moment. The Melbourne Cricket Ground track has been lifeless during the past two Boxing Day Tests, making it hard to take 20 wickets, although a Sheffield Shield match there this month was abandoned due to a dangerous pitch. With this in mind, Paine said a decision would only be made after a late inspection. But one scenario could be a five-pronged attack, in which Queensland seamer Michael Neser likely makes his debut.
"We'll find out tomorrow. The wicket is a bit unknown...but we've got a plan in place for both scenarios [with five bowlers or without]," Paine told reporters on Wednesday. "We've probably got two different teams [in mind], to be honest, so we'll make the final call tomorrow."
Australia traditionally play only four frontline bowlers—three quicks and spinner. According to Cricket Australia, they have only fielded five once before in the past decade—at the 2013 Sydney Test against Sri Lanka. If they go down this route on Thursday, Neser is set to line up alongside Mitchell Starc, Pat Cummins and Nathan Lyon, with James Pattinson replacing the injured Josh Hazlewood. Travis Head is expected to be the fall guy, with wicketkeeper Paine moving up the batting order to six. "Our batting team has been scoring a lot of runs so if we were to go one more bowler, we would be comfortable they could do the job," said Paine.
"The bowlers we would be bringing in can all bat so while we're taking a batter out, we're probably lengthening our line-up." Australia head into the Melbourne clash on the back of three wins at home this summer—two against Pakistan before their 296-run thrashing of New Zealand in the first Test at Perth, a day-night affair.
Marnus Labuschagne has been their star batsman, smashing his third century in a row at Perth before a second-innings 50. In contrast Steve Smith, their hero during the Ashes against England this year, has managed only 43 and 16 in his last two innings, out twice to short balls from Neil Wagner. It followed a quiet series against Pakistan and he is keen to pile on some runs in Melbourne.
"I've been facing a fair bit of short stuff in the nets because I'm expecting a bit [in Melbourne]," Smith said. "It's going to be completely different with the red ball as opposed to the pink ball, particularly [compared] to the second innings in Perth when it was a bit up and down with cracks and stuff. It's going to be different, but I'm looking forward to it."
Kiwi skipper Williamson upbeat over Boult, Blundell
Melbourne: New Zealand made two changes Wednesday for the Boxing Day Test against Australia with fast bowler Trent Boult back from injury and Tom Blundell replacing Jeet Ravel at the top of the order. The dangerous Boult missed the first Test in Perth, where his team crashed by 296 runs, with a rib injury that also kept him out of their final clash against England. But he has worked his way back to fitness, desperate to play in the Black Caps first Boxing Day Test at the Melbourne Cricket Ground since 1987. Williamson also confirmed Blundell, usually a middle-order batsman, would open alongside Tom Latham in place of the out-of-form Ravel. "He's [Blundell] a positive player and a smart cricketer so it's just trying to adapt to the conditions. It's important he goes out and plays his natural game," Williamson said.
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