Brisbane (Australia): New Zealand coach John Wright had no trouble putting Australia`s long unbeaten record at the Gabba into perspective for his team, two days out from the start to the series-opening Test in Brisbane.
New Zealand hasn`t won a Test anywhere in Australia since 1985, when Wright was part of the Richard Hadlee-inspired squad which won a series 2-1 — starting with an innings victory at the Gabba — so the matter of Australia`s unbeaten streak at the ground stretching back to 1988 didn`t faze him.
"It`s impressive, no doubt about it, but we have everything to play for," Wright said Tuesday. "We are not daunted by that record, we see it as an opportunity."
There`s a growing sense that this is New Zealand`s best chance to beat Australia, given the number of injuries to Michael Clarke`s front-line squad and the recent overhaul of the national team.
Current and ex-New Zealand players have talked about Australia`s aura of invincibility being gone.
"That`s exactly the way they`re talking," Wright said. "We`re just building quietly. I feel we got a little bit of confidence," from the recent tour to Zimbabwe and then with three players scoring centuries in the drawn tour game at Brisbane`s Allan Border Field last weekend.
"We got a lot out of that game," Wright said. "And they were kind enough to include three of the attack that are going to be here," in the first Test.
He was talking about Ben Cutting, Mitchell Starc and James Pattinson, who`re all vying for two positions alongside Peter Siddle in the Australian attack for the Test which starts Thursday. Neither of them had a dramatic impact in the tour match, where Jesse Ryder hit 16 sixes in a stunning 175 for New Zealand. But the pace and bounce of the Gabba, and the much larger scale of the field, will all pose different challenges to the batsmen and bowlers.
Not to mention the stakes on offer.
"It will be different because it`s Test match cricket and it`s a big occasion," Wright conceded. But, "That applies to (Australia) as well. They`re in the same boat as we are, with players making their debuts."
Ross Taylor will be leading an inexperienced New Zealand lineup, but Clarke`s XI will have only a few dozen more Test caps for Australia — even with 156-Test veteran Ricky Ponting batting in the top order. The Australian lineup will feature relative novices at the top and the bottom, with Ponting, Clarke, Mike Hussey and wicketkeeper Brad Haddin lending a core of experience in between. Ponting, Hussey and Haddin are all under pressure to hold onto their positions.
"From experience, any cricket team if you can get them under pressure, any team is vulnerable," Wright said. "We`ve got the players who can do well against this team."
Bowlers Mitchell Johnson, Shane Watson, Ryan Harris and Pat Cummins and batsman Shaun Marsh have been ruled out of the first Test, leaving Australia in the unusual position of giving Test debuts to at least three players in the one match.
One thing in their favor, Hussey said, is experience at the Gabba, where Australia has been starting its international season in recent years.
"We have got a very proud record here. All the guys get very excited for the start of the Australian summer which is always here at the Gabba," Hussey said. "We really enjoy playing in the fast, bouncy conditions.”
"We adapt to those conditions very well; whereas teams from around the world, it does take a bit of time if they`ve been playing on slower pitches."