Australia push for No. 1 with little prep time

Steven Smith’s team will not have a practice game in New Zealand before the Test series © Getty Images

Australia captain Steven Smith and his deputy David Warner will expect their team to adapt to New Zealand conditions without the assistance of a tour match as preparation, for a series in which the visitors can claim the No. 1 Test ranking.

Much was made of the poor preparation granted to both New Zealand and West Indies on their visits to Australia this summer – Brendon McCullum’s side was humbugged by a Blacktown pitch they deemed unplayable, while Jason Holder’s team had only one warm-up match in Brisbane before being badly beaten in Hobart. Australia’s trip across the Tasman has an even skimpier lead-in.

A Sheffield Shield match between New South Wales and Western Australia is set to be played in Lincoln near Christchurch to afford adaptation opportunities for some members of the Test squad. However, Smith and Warner are among those set to be occupied by the concurrent ODI series that precedes the Tests, and Smith said he expected his players to find other ways to adapt.

“There’s a lot of ways where you can replicate what you’re going to get,” Smith said. “You can get soft balls and get them to swing, you can bat on grass against spinners for subcontinent where the ball does unpredictable things, so things like that where you can work on what you’re likely to face and try to find a way to be successful against it.

“I’ve had a few chats about it to some of the boys. I think when you’re under pressure you go back to what you know. I think that can hurt you a little bit sometimes away from home, I think you almost have to find another way to do things, whether that be playing in England and New Zealand making sure you’re playing under your eyes … that’s one thing I’ve spoken about to a few of the boys.

“We’ve always played quite well at home but the challenge for us is to make sure we’re winning series away from home, and that starts with a tough series for us in New Zealand. Hopefully we can adapt to the conditions we’re going to be faced with in New Zealand, I dare say they’re going to have a bit of grass on them and they’re going to swing a little bit so we’re going to have to be better than we have been previously on those sorts of wickets, hopefully we can adapt well.”

A win over New Zealand away – something Australia have achieved in every attempt since a drawn series in 1993 – would propel Smith’s team to the top of the ICC rankings, provided England defeat South Africa in the series they presently lead 1-0. In the case of a drawn series between those two countries, Australia could claim top spot by defeating New Zealand 2-0. The stakes are high.

When asked whether he would prefer to play in the Shield match rather than the ODI series as a better way to get used to New Zealand climes, Warner said it was important Australia played their strongest side in the 50-over matches. At the forefront of his mind was Australia’s loss to New Zealand at a raucous Eden Park during last year’s World Cup.

“We’re trying to win series for our country,” Warner said. “The one-day series is going to be obviously the first thing we play over there and we’re going to try and set out to win that. I look back at Eden Park during the World Cup and we were quite poor there. That’s something we’ve got to try and be better at – winning away from home. We’re definitely going to put our best team on the park.

“It’s going to be not too dissimilar to England I think. It’s going to be swinging conditions but I think the wickets are probably going to be a bit greener. We saw the wicket against Sri Lanka where it was sort of green day one, day two then actually flattened out a little bit. I think it spun from memory.

“We’ve got to go over there and play with the same intent we do here in Australia. We know the swinging conditions are probably going to favour them a little bit more than us. We’ve got to be on top of our game to beat them over there at their home.”

Warner joined the Australian ODI squad that flew to Perth on Friday ahead of the five-match series against India, though his wife Candice is nearly due to give birth to their second child. “Fingers crossed it comes when it’s due,” Warner said. “That’s later towards the end of this month. I’m just looking forward to playing the first couple of one-dayers and obviously I’ll be by the phone waiting for that phone call.”

Daniel Brettig is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. @danbrettig

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Source: ESPN Crickinfo

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