Venue: Melbourne Cricket Ground, Melbourne
Date: Thursday, December 26 – Monday, December 30, 2019
History proved to be too much for New Zealand to handle in the first Test between these two sides in Perth earlier this month. In sweltering conditions in the day/night game, the Australians won the toss and elected to bat on a quick pitch. Their then rattled off the runs, making 416 in their first innings behind a monster knock of 143 from Marnus Labuschagne. Among that strike was Labuschagne’s 1,000th run in Test match cricket.
New Zealand managed just 166 in reply off of 55.2 overs. The main reason for this was the play of pace bowler Mitchell Starc. We pointed out Starc as one to watch before the match because he is something of a specialist with the pink ball. His total haul – 5/52 in the Black Caps’ first innings and then 4/45 in their second – saw the nine-wicket man named man of the match as Australia win by 296 runs in what was a commanding and unerring performance.
The big news for Australia is that opening batsman David Warner is good to go after being a fitness worry ahead of the second Test. Warner was injured in a nets session on Monday when he was struck on the hand while practicing his stroke. After undergoing some medical checks and tests, Warner returned to training with strapping on his hand, though this is something that will be worth monitoring during the Test to see if it affects the power of his shots or his fielding.
With Josh Hazlewood out of the side with a hamstring injury it looks like James Pattinson will be making his first Test appearance on home soil for almost four years against New Zealand. There is no shortage of pacemen in the Australian setup, but Pattinson has been impressing and looks set to get his chance to shine.
Jeet Raval is the casualty of the opening Test, something that is perhaps overdue given he now was just 63 runs in his last five Test outings. That included a total of two runs from his two innings in Perth. That opens up a place for Tom Blundell to join the batting at the top of the order.
The good news for the Black Caps is that star bowler Trent Boult is set to return after missing the first Test. His left arm pace was badly missed in Perth and he will be raring to go here after recovering from a rib muscle injury sustained late in the series against England.
The wildcard here is the state of the wicket at the MCG. This is the first time that the ground will be used since a Sheffield Sheild match was abandoned due to a dangerous wicket. Renovations to the wicket in the off-season saw a layer of concrete removed, but what was a flat track has now become something completely unpredictable with batsmen in the previous game taking body blows to the extent that umpires called the contest.
We like the favoured Australians to win here and clinch yet another home Test series over their Anzac rivals. There is a lack of value in their price though, so look at some of the other markets on BetXchange, with Trent Boult coming back as the Black Caps best first innings bowler 2.50 and the in-form Labuschagne taking man of the match at 12.00 both looking like interesting bets.