Sydney, Jan 2: Having already lost the series with back-to-back defeats in Perth and Melbourne, New Zealand have been further plagued by their players going down with injuries and illnesses ahead of the third Test, beginning on Friday here.
New Zealand's 247-run defeat in the Boxing Day Test marked their first Test series loss in more than two years. In Perth, they missed the services of Trent Boult, who has now been ruled out of the series, after having sustained a fracture to the second metacarpal of his right hand while batting in the Melbourne Test. To add to the misery, skipper Kane Williamson and batsman Henry Nicholls are known to have missed back-to-back training sessions with flu-like symptoms.
That, however, doesn't quite justify the results. New Zealand's batting has been a complete failure, barring Tom Blundell, who scored a gritty 121 on his comeback in the second Test. Neil Wagner has shown some spark with the ball, with 14 wickets from two Tests so far, but lack of support from the other end has allowed Australia to keep racing ahead. Despite having already lost the series, however, New Zealand have plenty to play for, as a win in Sydney would help them climb two spots in the ICC World Test Championship standings.
Australia, on the other hand, have given themselves a chance to close in the gap with the top-placed India. While the bowling hasn't given any breathing space to the opposition, despite the unavailability of Josh Hazlewood, the batting looks all the more solid, after contributions from Matthew Wade and skipper Tim Paine, an ICC report on Thursday said. Sydney's spin-assisting surface presents a strong case for leg-spinner Mitchell Swepson's debut, but whether the hosts tinker with their winning combination remains to be seen. Australia captain Tim Paine said, "I think at the moment it would be likely that we would go unchanged, but there's still a possibility, if we see that wicket tomorrow morning, that we could play another spinner.
We've got some guys around our squad that could provide quite a bit of flexibility, and even someone like James Pattinson can really lengthen our batting anyway. Our preference would be to keep a winning combination together." New Zealand head coach Gary Stead said, "We were obviously beaten up by Australia again. I want to acknowledge how well they played; we're up against a quality team at the very top of their game. For us, I think, we've got to find some areas where we can keep chipping away, make improvements and put Australia under pressure for longer." (UNI)