How drastically things can change in modern-day cricket. Till a few days ago, Australia were under extreme pressure. They were 0-2 down in the Tests against South Africa, and were facing a whitewash. Before that, the Proteas had also thrashed them 5-0 in one-dayers. But, the burden is on the other side now. New Zealand are trailing 2-0, and will find it very difficult to prevent a whitewash. Australia, on the other hand, must be extremely keen to ensure that they claim the series by the most comprehensive of margins. After the horrors of recent times, a 3-0 victory will be a welcome change.
Australia’s supreme batting has been the difference between the two sides. Skipper Steven Smith began the series with a brilliant hundred in the first match, and carried on with a 70-odd in the second as the Aussies clinched the series with utmost ease. David Warner also came up with a breezy hundred at Manuka Oval as he eased his way to another impressive score. Having been the top-scorer in the 0-5 embarrassment to the Proteas, the southpaw would want to finish this series on a high as well. The task would be easier as the hosts have already clinched the deal.
What has been most impressive about the Aussie batting in the first two games so far has been the great back-up that skipper Smith has received. Travis Head has crossed half-centuries in both matches while Mitchell Marsh was in absolutely smashing form at Canberra. His whirlwind knock took the wind out of New Zealand’s sail. To add to it, Matthew Wade has also come up with the big hits when needed. The two people who need to stand up now are former skipper George Bailey and opener Aaron Finch, who has just not looked in his elements.
With the series decided, Australia are highly likely to rest their main bowler, left-arm seamer Mitchell Starc, particularly considering the Pakistan Tests coming up. That would mean additional responsibility for the three pacers, James Faulkner, Pat Cummins and Josh Hazlewood, all of whom have done reasonably well. The spin department is likely to remain in the hands of Adam Zampa. There are not much changes likely in the batting department. But, it would be interesting to see whether Glenn Maxwell gets a chance to display his skills. For that, one of the form batsmen might be rested.
New Zealand have plain simply been second best in the two games. Their bowling has just not been up to the mark. Trent Boult, who troubled the Aussies during last year’s World Cup, has not been the same bowler. Tim Southee missed the first game, and it did not help matters. There could be a toss-up between Lockie Ferguson and Matt Henry for one of the pacers’ slot, as both have struggled. In the batting, Martin Guptill has been excellent form. Skipper Kane Williamson and Jimmy Neesham got runs in the last game. But, they had too much to do. Also, the decision to insert Australia in backfired big time.
--By A Cricket Analyst