New Zealand’s cricketers believe it is they rather than the hosts Australia who have the superior preparation leading into next month’s Test series, with a change in their Brisbane arrival plans adding to a sense that the visitors will be well bedded down by the time the Gabba Test begins on November 5.
Typically Australia have laid waste to undercooked touring teams in Brisbane, but by the time the day-night Sheffield Shield round ends the Australian team’s only long-form match practice, New Zealand will have already played three such matches plus the Prime Minister’s XI fixture in Canberra.
There was a round of Plunket Shield before Brendon McCullum’s team departed for Australia, the two-day game in Manuka and then another three-day fixture at Blacktown – the last two of which both feature the red ball. In keeping with their reputation as an alert and agile team, New Zealand’s successful request to shorten the Blacktown match and so allow an extra day’s training in Brisbane means they will fancy their chances of settling quickly at the Gabba, scene of many Australian triumphs but seldom an XI as inexperienced as the one to be led by Steven Smith.
The allrounder James Neesham had little hesitation in declaring New Zealand’s lead-in to Brisbane was the more preferable of those taken by the two teams. “I think I’d prefer to have it our way,” he said of having two red ball matches versus Australia’s one Shield round against the pink ball. “I think it’s important to get practice in the conditions most similar to the ones you’re going to be playing in.
“We’ve got another warm-up game starting up down here, then we’ll go up to Brisbane and get some good practice in at the Gabba for a few days before the first Test, and we’re looking after ourselves and looking to prepare the best way we can.
“[Shortening the Blacktown game] was a coaching decision and we thought it best for our group to get training in the conditions most similar to what the first Test is going to be like, and heading up to the Gabba with quicker and bouncier wickets seemed like the best way to go.”
New Zealand’s squad will have another extra opportunity to prepare for the experimental pink-ball third Test by playing a tour match under lights against a Western Australia XI in Perth after the second Test of the series. The Australians meanwhile will spend two days at home before warming up for Adelaide with net sessions only.
Neesham said that while the Gabba certainly had a fearsome reputation, the tourists were making sure they did not talk themselves into the expectation of hellish conditions and would instead deal with whatever confronts them on the day.
“It can be a little bit overawing, the Aussies have a very good record at Brisbane over the last 20 or so years,” he said. “The main thing for us is to look after ourselves, we know we have a strong team and a settled unit, and if we go up and play the way we can, that should put us in good stead.
“Especially Tim [Southee] thrives on bouncier wickets, and we’ve got a guy like Doug Bracewell as well bowling first change, or Matt Henry who thrives on the bounce as well. I’m sure our guys will be looking forward to getting on the quicker, bouncier wicket after the game at Manuka Oval.
“We’re quietly confident. We’ve got quite a settled unit and over the last 24 months we’ve put some good results on the board in Test cricket and we’re just going to approach the series like we have every other series over the last couple of years and go about our business.”
Like is team-mates, Neesham was notably unfazed by the years of history separating this side from the one and only New Zealand team to win a Test series down under. He pointed out that McCullum’s men had been setting plenty of new marks of their own in recent times.
“We hadn’t won a one-day series in South Africa before I started playing either and we’ve knocked that one off, and we’ve gone about ways of breaking new ground for New Zealand cricket over the last couple of years,” Neesham said. “Trying to do something that hasn’t been done before or in a long time doesn’t really play too much on our minds.”
Daniel Brettig is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. @danbrettig
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