Test cricket returns to the Gabba for the first time since the Ashes with Australia once again in the midst of something of a selection crisis. A year ago they arrived in Brisbane with a frankly ridiculous squad of 17 players, this time their problems are rather less self-inflicted as no less than four first choice men are out injured. New Zealand have only won 4 of their last 28 Tests, and haven’t won in Australia since 1986, but they must fancy their chances this Winter with their opponents even weaker than normal.
The hosts are without Shane Watson, Shaun Marsh, Mitchell Johnson and Pat Cummins, meaning there will probably be three debutants in the side – David Warner, James Pattinson and Mitchell Starc. After such a great month of Test cricket, an opening pair of Phil Hughes and Warner should be able to bring everyone back down to earth with a bump. We know little about the two young bowlers, mainly thanks to our resident Australian letting the side down of late. Our knowledge doesn’t extend much beyond being aware they are fairly highly rated in the land of Oz, and given the Aussie press doesn’t exactly have a good recent record in that department we’ll reserve judgement until we’ve actually seen them play. The odds on the commentary team telling us how Darren and James Pattinson have become the first siblings to play for different nations in over a century within the first hour are very short indeed.
As for the Kiwis; their side is much more settled and boosted by the return of Jesse Ryder, who blitzed a record 16 sixes in his century against Australia A last week. Recently they have struggled to consistently put big scores on the board, something which is a must if they are to break their Australian hoodoo. Ryder will be a key part of that, as with a lower order which looks vulnerable his aggression at number five could be vital. Bowling-wise they look the stronger of the two sides, not least because of the vast experience they have by comparison – Daniel Vettori, Chris Martin and Tim Southee are a force to be reckoned with, especially against a top order which still has a question mark the size of a small country over it.
The weather may play a part, as thunderstorms are forecast for the first day and intermittent showers after that, but if recent performances are anything to go by we could lose four days to rain and still be confident of a result. Whispers coming out of Brisbane suggest the pitch may have some life in it, so much so that Michael Clarke has talked of picking an all-seam attack. The important thing is the surface probably won’t be as flat as it was when Alastair Cook and Jonathan Trott were having their wicked way with it last year.