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Cricket news - Can New Zealand Dream big in their unlikely home away from home

Kane Williamson's Kiwi outfit have not lost a Test series since March 2017

Kane Williamson's Kiwi outfit have not lost a Test series since March 2017

""Good on them for bringing us here first." Even though he had a wry smile on his face when he said it and was very obviously being sarcastic, Gary Stead might have inadvertently made a good point. He was of course admiring Australia with his tongue firmly in his cheek for being shrewd in having his team start their tour in Perth, the most extreme conditions that a New Zealand cricket team can face across the Tasman. But in many ways, pitch and weather conditions apart, Western Australia could well be the most apt place for a Kiwi team to commence their quest for a rare series win in Australia.

For what this New Zealand Test team in particular are to world cricket is what Perth is to the rest of Australia. Or in a strange way, Western Australia is the New Zealand of Australia. There are so many parallels you can draw after all.

Both the state and the cricket team seem to fly under the radar and rarely get their due despite being significant contributors to the country and the sport respectively. Kane Williamson's Kiwi outfit have not lost a Test series since March 2017 and have landed in these shores as the No.2 team in the world. But most of their success has either gone unnoticed or has been overshadowed by either the glories or the tribulations of the more high-profile teams around the world.

The people of WA meanwhile not only feel neglected at most times by their more illustrious compatriots on the eastern coast of Australia but also have a gripe about that being so despite, as some here say, "funding the country". Western Australia's per capita gross state product (GSP) isn't just the highest by a massive margin in the country, on its own it's also good enough to be counted amongst the 50 best economies in the world. Not to forget that WA accounts for nearly half of all of Australia's exports. And don't even try reminding the Perth loyalists of how even New Zealand have a team in the National Rugby League (NRL) competition but they don't.

While Australians have historically made fun of the Kiwi accent-try getting them to talk about the 22-yard deck being used for the game-those in Perth take a lot of pride in having their own little dialect-purely in terms of pronunciation-as compared to the east. In these parts, a local sporting rivalry is a derby and not a darby. It's Albany and not Olbany. It's Coojee and not Cujjee. What you wear to the beach are bathers and not cossies. And don't be surprised if you walk into a pub in Sydney and ask for a midi, only to encounter bewildered faces and be told they only sell either pints or schooners.

But like Stead said, when it comes to cricketing factors, the Kiwis couldn't be in a setting more alien than Perth. And even though they have come here this time around with their most settled and arguably strongest Test squad in nearly three decades, Williamson & Co will have to play at their best and beyond to do what their predecessors have historically struggled to over on this side of the Tasman-start well and get on top of the Aussies early enough in the series. It could go a long way in putting Tim Paine's side under pressure too, considering the Kiwis then move to Melbourne and Sydney, climes a lot more familiar and suitable to them in terms of weather and pitches.

Not surprisingly, their batsmen in particular have spent a majority of their first two days of training trying their best to get used to facing balls closer to their throats than their mid-riffs. The fast bowlers, meanwhile, have focused on trying to find the right lengths to make sure they are able to utilize the conditions best to suit their natural styles of attack. They also have the not-so-straightforward task of getting used to dealing with the pink-ball within three days, having not played a Test with it for nearly two years. And they've also been caught between wanting to get acclimatized to the extreme heat and also the sighting the pinkness under lights. Add to that the real test of then having to overcome the might of an in-form David Warner, a hungrier-than-ever Steve Smith, a very high-quality pace attack and the most successful off-spinner in the world.

"We just fly over here and prepare like other teams do," was Stead's quip to being asked about whether he thought his team "flies under the radar". But they have flown here with possibly their best chance to win a series since the last time they arrived here this close to Christmas. And if they find a way somehow to see the slightly far-fetched similarities they share with WA than the extreme challenges of starting here, they might just end up doing so.

When: Australia v New Zealand, 1st Test (d/n), December 12 to 16, 01.00 pm Local, 10.30 am IST

Where: Perth Stadium, Perth

What to expect: The Test starting at 1 pm Perth time also means that the Kiwis will have to get used to the 6-hour time difference. They're not the only ones though. For, talk of jetlag has also dominated conversations among those who have travelled here from the eastern state capitals of Australia.

But only Tasmanians, Paine and Matthew Wade-as admitted by the Aussie captain himself-will not have at some point faced the braze and brutal heat that is forecast for Perth over the next five days. To say that it's been a hot start to the summer here would be an understatement, with the average temperatures set to beat an 88-year-old city record.

We've already had maiden 40-degree November day and the earliest 40-degree December day this year. No wonder then that curator Brett Sipthorpe himself looked a tad concerned about how his pitch would deal with the extremities while sounding quietly confidently that it'll hold up without there being too many significant cracks on view. "You might see cracks of an inch or something like that. I can't imagine them being massive canyons," to quote him. And that could well mean that the pitch plays kind of similarly to the way it did last year where there was enough for the fast bowlers to ensure no batsmen ever felt settled, but also enough runs to be scored if a batsman somehow still managed to settle in.

Team News:

Australia: Australia's Test team is in a good place now. It's always a good sign when you have both captain and coach talking about how difficult it would be for them to make any changes. The fact that the hosts are set to go in with the same XI for the third Test running is being considered in some circles as a throwback to the times Australia dominated the Test scene. But it would be premature to make comparisons this early in the summer. But for now, except the fact that Travis Head and Tim Paine have hardly got a bat, there is no reason for change. And with Joe Burns getting runs at the Gabba and Marnus Labuschagne getting plenty of runs in both Tests, the top-order too looks sorted for the first time in quite a while.

Playing XI: David Warner, Joe Burns, Marnus Labuschagne, Steve Smith, Matthew Wade, Travis Head, Tim Paine (c/wk), Pat Cummins, Mitchell Starc, Nathan Lyon, Josh Hazlewood

New Zealand: Ross Taylor copped a painful blow on the gloves courtesy side-arm delivery in the nets on Tuesday (December 10). But thankfully the veteran's been cleared of any significant danger and will be taking his place in the very accomplished middle-order. The injury cloud over Trent Boult though still lingers with the Kiwis leaving it to the last minute before taking a call on their frontline new-ball bowler. Williamson did say that they would look at his inclusion as a "long-ish term decision".

Boult bowled two spells-the first lasting for 35 minutes and the second for 10-minutes-on Tuesday but was the only Kiwi not to bat. Chances are that the visitors will prefer caution, considering they have the rapidly-quick Lockie Ferguson waiting in the wings. Colin de Grandhomme is said to be "tracking nicely" and would generous balance to the side but he might well be needed a lot more for the Tests to follow, which could open doors for Tom Blundell to play as a specialist batsman.

Probable XI: Tom Latham, Jeet Raval, Kane Williamson (c), Ross Taylor, Henry Nicholls, BJ Watling (wk), Colin de Grandhomme/Tom Blundell, Mitchell Santner, Tim Southee, Trent Boult/Lockie Ferguson, Neil Wagner

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