The depleted Australian cricket side suffered a further setback on Thursday on the eve of the opening match against New Zealand with the likely loss of an injured Brett Lee. But the injury to the Australian bowling spearhead has done little to lift the hopes of a full-strength New Zealand side which has consistently authored its own downfall this year.
Lee was taken to hospital for scans on his left knee and ankle after catching his sprigs in the outfield during fielding practice. But the results are not due until after the first match in the Chappell-Hadlee series which begins of Friday (today), making it unlikely Lee will play.
If he is ruled out, Lee will join resting captain Ricky Ponting and wicket-keeper Adam Gilchrist as well as the injured Andrew Symonds. Batsman Michael Clarke is also in doubt after arriving in New Zealand on Wednesday with a hip problem.
This has produced an experimental Australian side with still unfamiliar names such as Adam Voges, Cameron White and Brad Haddin. That Australia are on a two-match losing streak, after being whitewashed by England in the recent tri-series, offers the new blood the chance to engineer redemption.
Haddin, the heir apparent to Gilchrist, tops Australia’s domestic one-day competition with 406 runs at 67.67, while Voges averages 40 at first-class level. They are figures which offered little hope to New Zealand.
“We’ve taken a little bit from England beating them but we can’t take too much,” said rising New Zealand batting star Ross Taylor. “They’ll be hurting from that and they’ve still got a strong team,” he added.
New Zealand have reason not to take anything for granted, having won just six of their last 16 One-day Internationals (ODIs) and only two of their last 22 against Australia. In the recent tri-series in Australia, they consistently went close to winning and just as consistently came up short.
Sloppy fielding in one match and wayward bowling in another saw them lose to Australia by two wickets and then by eight runs. Then timid batting after a rollicking start saw them fail by 14 runs to beat England for a place in the finals.
“We had a lot of close games over there and we should have won three of them,” Taylor said. “Hopefully we can rectify that in these next three games,” he added. Much focus is on captain Stephen Fleming, so long the backbone of New Zealand cricket but this year struggling for form.
Even the century in his last outing against England was at a dour rate, which commentators here have blamed for New Zealand coming up short in the run chase. While both teams need to find some momentum before heading to the World Cup, the match is looming as a pivotal moment in Daryl Tuffey’s resurrection as a New Zealand new ball bowler.
The last time the 28-year-old played for New Zealand it was a disastrous two-over spell against Australia which conceded 25 runs. In the six games played so far for the Chappell-Hadlee Trophy — named after two of the most famous cricketing families on either side of the Tasman — Australia have won three, New Zealand two and one match was washed out.
Squads: New Zealand (from): Stephen Fleming (captain), Lou Vincent, Ross Taylor, Scott Styris, Craig McMillan, Jacob Oram, Brendon McCullum, Daniel Vettori, James Franklin, Shane Bond, Daryl Tuffey, Mark Gillespie, Jeetan Patel.
Australia (from): Michael Hussey (captain), Matthew Hayden, Shane Watson, Brad Hodge, Brad Haddin, Michael Clarke, Phil Jaques, Adam Voges, Cameron White, Brett Lee, Brad Hogg, Mitchell Johnson, Nathan Bracken, Glenn McGrath.