Steve Smith ahead of the first Test in Perth. Picture: AAP/Richard Wainwright
Steve Smith ahead of the first Test in Perth. Picture: AAP/Richard Wainwright

Contenders or pretenders? Rebuilt Aussies face litmus test

Australia won't be seduced by the nice guy Kiwi persona and are out to ruthlessly target New Zealand captain Kane Williamson in Perth.

Test great Adam Gilchrist declared that Australia is back to looking like one of the strongest teams in world cricket, but this shapes as a defining series in proving whether they are indeed the real deal.

Former wicketkeeper Brad Haddin famously revealed New Zealand had pulled the wool over their eyes when Australia lost to them in the 2015 World Cup, feeling the generosity the Black Caps showed on and off the field had softened his side's traditionally hard attitude.

 

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But despite the fact Australia has toned down its overt aggression from that date, captain Tim Paine made it clear that mentally there will be no dropped guards in the first pink ball Test at Perth Stadium.

"Not at all. However they play their cricket is however they play theirs," said Paine.

"I don't think it's going to change or anyone is going to go out of their way to be anything different to what we are.

"We're looking forward to it. It's going to be highly competitive and both teams and all individuals handle certain situations differently.

"The pink ball can potentially suit them (with New Zealand's swing bowlers).

"New Zealand are the second best team in the world. They are a well planned team and very difficult to beat.

"I said to the boys on Tuesday this is why we play - this is why we want to be part of a big Test series and this is certainly one of those."

Australia successfully blunted Pakistan captain Azhar Ali during the last series and Paine admits his arsenal of fast bowlers will be gunning for Kiwi skipper Williamson's scalp on a Perth pitch tipped to explode with cracks in the forecast temperatures of 40 degrees.

 

Captains Tim Paine (R) and Kane Williamson at Optus Stadium. Picture: AAP/Richard Wainwright
Captains Tim Paine (R) and Kane Williamson at Optus Stadium. Picture: AAP/Richard Wainwright

 

"Regardless of whether he's captain, I think Kane is a huge key to New Zealand's team," said Paine.

"Obviously if we can keep him quiet, it's going to go a long way to helping us win Test matches and the series.

"It's a lot easier said than done."

New Zealand are ranked No.2 on the world Test rankings, but it's Australia who are in second place behind India on the inaugural World Test Championship table.

Every Test is vital in the race to the Championship final at Lord's in 2021, and Australia believe keeping the nucleus of a team together is the key to launching another era of dominance for the baggy green cap.

Australia has named its third consecutive unchanged XI for the summer, and Gilchrist can see a new superpower in the making, provided they can show their mettle against the Kiwi warriors.

"We'll find out a lot more after this series compared to what we just saw against Pakistan. All the pieces of the puzzle seem to be falling into place," said Gilchrist.

"The balance of the team, the skills from 1-11. This will tell us a lot more.

"On paper and just putting all the various individuals together, it's looking like one of the strongest teams in world cricket in my opinion.

 

Mitchell Starc and the fast bowling cartel have been given a license to go after Williamson. Picture: AAP/Richard Wainwright
Mitchell Starc and the fast bowling cartel have been given a license to go after Williamson. Picture: AAP/Richard Wainwright

"So now it's a challenge of going out and consistently producing that.

"If there is anything New Zealand has done well, they have just been a consistent cricket team.

"This Australian team has the foundation now to really form a successful era."

Paine says the return of Australia's big names has changed the attitude of the dressing room.

"The quality of player in our team again now compared to when I first went to Dubai as captain (is a huge change)," said Paine.

"We didn't have Smith, we didn't have Warner, we didn't have two of our quicks. Now Hazlewood is back in, Cummins is back in … that changes the team dynamic and it breeds confidence."



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