All the action as the Black Caps play Australia in the Boxing Day test for the first time since 1987.
By Niall Anderson in Melbourne
Black Caps batting coach Peter Fulton knows his players need to significantly improve to challenge Australia in the Boxing Day test but isn’t demanding drastic changes.
The Black Caps were rolled for measly totals of 166 and 171 in the first test in Perth, with Ross Taylor the only batsman to pass 40 — yet the Kiwis have made only one change to their top order, with Tom Blundell making his first test appearance in two years, replacing the struggling Jeet Raval as opener.
Captain Kane Williamson yesterday confirmed Blundell would play at the MCG, with the only other change the return from injury of swing bowler Trent Boult.
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Little is known about the state of the MCG track after a Sheffield Shield match had to be abandoned earlier this month.
Fulton, however, is expecting better batting conditions.
“I think guys are acclimatised now, Perth was obviously a bit challenging with the heat and the surface we played on. I suspect this wicket will be a bit friendlier to bat on, especially later in the game.”
Fulton believes the bowlers will get the most assistance early on, leaving a potentially tricky decision if Williamson happens to win the toss.
“I don’t think either side knows what we’re going to get, but I think at some stage it will flatten out into a pretty good surface, so the first couple of days will probably be pretty important.
“Our natural tendency is to bowl first if you think there’s a little bit in the wicket, while Australia go the other way and they tend to look to bat. It’ll probably be a tricky decision.”
Fulton has pinpointed the top six as where improvements need to be made, with one change being made from Perth, as Tom Blundell comes in for Jeet Raval at the top of the order.
Fulton believes Blundell should still maintain his aggressive style when facing the new ball.
“Tom’s a pretty aggressive player, and it’s important to be decisive as an opening batsman, if you’re going to play an attacking shot then commit to that, and the same goes if you’re going to defend or leave it.
“We know he’s a good player of the short ball, I’m sure he’ll get tested out on that, he’s a good player against fast bowling and hopefully that’s going to hold him in good stead.”
Blundell will walk out alongside Tom Latham, who has a slight hole in his otherwise-excellent opening resume, averaging just 26.4 in 12 innings against Australia.
According to Fulton, Latham’s situation is similar to the rest of his batting teammates, and that the top order need to be trusted to continue what has worked for them recently.
“He’s got an amazing record as an opener and I’m sure he’ll draw on some of that experience. But he’s one of those guys in the top six that we need a score out of.
“We can’t start to panic too much – there’s a lot of guys in that top six or seven who have got really good records over the last few years, so while we need to play better, we don’t need to change too much to what’s given us success recently.”
Black Caps XI: Tom Latham, Tom Blundell, Kane Williamson, Ross Taylor, Henry Nicholls, BJ Watling, Colin de Grandhomme, Mitchell Santner, Tim Southee, Neil Wagner, Trent Boult.
Australia XI (probable): David Warner, Joe Burns, Marnus Labuschange, Steve Smith, Travis Head, Matthew Wade, Tim Paine, Pat Cummins, Mitchell Starc, James Pattinson, Nathan Lyon.