New Zealand might have just missed out on a World Cup trophy but they look capable of winning their first Test series in Australia since 1985 this summer in what looms as a blockbuster clash.
While New Zealand should start as underdogs in that three-Test series against an Australian side that’s very strong at home, the Kiwi talent on display in the World Cup underlined why they’re the number two ranked Test team.
What is particularly relevant, when considering NZ’s chances, is the fact the first Test will be a day-night clash at the most pace-friendly pitch in Australia, Perth Stadium.
Quicks have had a field day in the first-class and one day matches played at that ground, and the Kiwis have an elite pace attack.
In Trent Boult, Lockie Ferguson, Neil Wagner and Colin de Grandhomme, New Zealand could field a battery of quicks which is very nearly as dangerous as that possessed by Australia.
That’s not to mention Matt Henry and Tim Southee as back-up. Regardless of any comparisons between the two pace units, that Kiwi quartet has the skill, pace, swing and variety to potentially scythe through Australia on a lively Perth Stadium surface under lights.
On a typical Aussie road the home side would be clear favourites. The second Test on the often pancake-flat MCG pitch could offer Australia just such a strong home advantage.
The first Test, though, is likely to be played in conditions the Kiwis will enjoy.
New Zealand are used to playing on bowler-friendly pitches back home. The emergence of Ferguson is particularly crucial for the Kiwis.
Not since Shane Bond was chopping up Australia 15 years ago have New Zealand had a bowler like Ferguson who boasts both intimidating pace and impressive skill.
The 28-year-old express quick was one of the stars of the World Cup, taking 21 wickets at 19.
After 36 ODIs he has put together the fantastic record of 67 wickets at 25, with a phenomenal strike rate of 28.
Ferguson always has been a natural wicket taker. Now he’s added precision and guile. While he’s yet to make his Test debut he looks perfectly suited to the longest format.
Every Test team in the world wants to field a genuinely quick bowler, provided they don’t just spray the ball all over the pitch.
Ferguson has an excellent first-class record – 149 wickets at 24 – and I’ll be very surprised if he doesn’t make his Test debut in NZ’s two-match series in Sri Lanka in four weeks from now.
On the dead tracks in Sri Lanka express pace is vital to add variety to an attack. New Zealand then have two home Tests against England in November, meaning Ferguson could get four matches under his belt before coming to Australia.
The last two sides to win Test series in Australia just happened to boast at least one quick who was both scary and precise.
Ferguson is the type of bowler New Zealand badly lacked last time around, and which the likes of England also missed while being destroyed 9-0 across their past two tours of Australia.
He would nicely complement the swing of Boult and the unusual, short-pitched approach of Wagner.
Australians are very familiar with the rare talents of Boult. Yet Wagner is actually ranked above Boult in Tests at number five. That is thanks to Wagner’s hot Test form over the past four years, during which he’s taken 107 wickets at 23.
Boult, Ferguson and Wagner, then, have the class and variety of styles to really challenge the Aussie batsmen. New Zealand’s batting, meanwhile, is also in good shape.
In Kane Williamson and Ross Taylor they have two of the longstanding batting stars of the format. The Kiwis also have two younger players who are now ranked in the top 12 Test batsmen in the world.
Henry Nicholls has quietly rocketed up to five in the rankings, ahead of the likes of Joe Root and Faf du Plessis, on the back of a sparkling run of form. In Nicholls’ past 15 Tests he has piled up 1,138 runs at 60, including five tons.
They haven’t been cheap runs either. Of his five centuries, one was in the UAE against Pakistan, and two others were against South Africa and England at home.
Nicholls’ 145* against New Zealand in Auckland came in a monster victory over England by an innings and 49 runs. England were humiliated in that Test, dismissed for 58 on day one before the Kiwis replied with 8-427 declared.
New Zealand won that Test series 1-0, with their batting line-up doing a good job. Aside from the powerful trio of Williamson, Taylor and Nicholls at three/four/five in their line-up, New Zealand also have a solid opening combination and some good middle order options.
Openers Tom Latham and Jeet Raval average 43 and 37 in Tests, respectively, and are the best opening pair New Zealand have had in many years.
Then in the middle order the Kiwis have perhaps the most underrated Test cricketer in the world in BJ Watling. A very fine gloveman, Watling also offers great value with the bat, having made 3,096 runs at 37 in Tests, including six tons.
Watling has a habit of making tough runs and averages 37 both home and away, underlining his impressive ability to adapt to a range of conditions.
His name is very rarely brought up when people debate who is the best keeper-batsman in Test cricket. Watling is a superior gloveman to the players who typically dominate that debate – Quinton de Kock and Jonny Bairstow – and his batting record compares well with both of them.
At number seven, New Zealand will have the choice of picking from two attractive all-rounders. Colin de Grandhomme has done an excellent job in Tests so far, averaging 37 with the bat and 31 with the ball.
Jimmy Neesham, meanwhile, has not yet done himself justice in Tests but is in remarkable form in ODIs. The 28-year-old was wonderful in the World Cup and has averaged 44 with the bat and 21 with the ball from his 18 ODIs this year.
This underscores the depth New Zealand currently possess in Tests – the fact the likes of Neesham, Henry and Southee might not even make their starting XI. The Kiwis are hurting right now after their heartbreaking World Cup final tie, which saw England win the Cup on a countback.
There would be no better medicine for this sorrow than to finally knock off the Aussies in their own backyard. And that’s a distinct possibility. This Test series should be a cracker.