New Zealand have been forced into an astonishing five changes for the third Test at the SCG, with captain Kane Williamson ruled out.
The Kiwi skipper had been racing to prove his fitness for the third Test against Australia after battling illness for several days.
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The popular batsman was unable to do so in time for the SCG Test, joining spinner Mitchell Santner and batsman Henry Nichols in being ruled out.
Santner was ruled out on Friday morning through illness, capping off a terrible series for the spinner who has figures of 1-250 across two Tests.
Nicholls was also battling a viral infection throughout the week, and has also been ruled out.
Batsman Glenn Phillips was flown into Sydney from Auckland on Thursday as cover for the sick pair.
Tom Latham is captain with Tim Southee and Trent Boult also out, while Australia have resisted the urge to blood spinner Mitchell Swepson at the SCG after having already wrapped up the series 2-0.
What a disaster! The @BLACKCAPS tour of Australia goes from bad to worse with news this morning that Kane Williamson, Henry Nicholls, Mitchell Santner, Tim Southee and Trent Boult will NOT play.— Backyard Sports Media (@BYSportsMedia) January 2, 2020
Former NSW spinner Will Somerville and fellow tweaker Todd Astle have come into the team, while Matt Henry returns as a quick alongside Neil Wagner.
Out-of-form opener Jeet Raval returns at No.3.
"It's been a tough 48 hours for us," Latham said.
"We've had a bit of sickness, a virus has gone through the team which is unfortunate.
"They (Williamson and Nicholls) gave their best chance this morning to be right but unfortunately. They're not right."
NZ XI: Tom Latham (c), Tom Blundell, Jeet Raval, Ross Taylor, Glenn Phillips, BJ Watling (wk), Colin de Grandhomme, Todd Astle, Will Somerville, Matt Henry, Neil Wagner #AUSvNZ— cricket.com.au (@cricketcomau) January 2, 2020
New Zealand great Ian Smith said it was the worst preparation for a Test he’d ever seen from the Kiwis, questioning Southee’s omission considering he wasn’t sick or injured.
“This is the interesting part as well because this isn’t governed by injury, this is tactical - the bowling side of it,” Smith said in commentary for Fox Crickeet.
“Astle and Somerville, two genuine spinners and then you go with Matt Henry and Neil Wagner - no Tim Southee which is interesting because I think Southee might have been captain if he had played.
“To be fair, this is the most patchwork preparation to a game of Test cricket I have ever seen New Zealand have to undergo.”
This tour has been a deadset disaster. Dropping southee is a baffling decision at best of times but when your most experienced players are all crook surely you keep him in? I’m not angry, just disappointed.— Ed Jackson (@edjacko) January 2, 2020
Gerard: "This is archetypal 'how a a team falls apart on Australian soil' - they've ticked every box."— SEN 1116 (@1116sen) January 2, 2020
Tim Southee still somehow fell out of the team despite a bunch of dudes unavailable due to illness. That makes him about the 16th preferred player in this NZ team #AUSvNZ— Corbin Middlemas (@CorbinMiddlemas) January 2, 2020
Those five New Zealand changes means the Black Caps have lost almost 10,000 Test runs and almost 550 wickets from their XI on Boxing Day #AUSvNZ— Martin Smith (@martinsmith9994) January 2, 2020
Aussie bowlers ‘as good as we’ve had’
While things look to be falling apart for the visitors, Australia’s fortunes appear to be trending i the opposite direction.
After two dominant Test victories on home soil against New Zealand, which followed a two-Test thumping of Pakistan earlier, fast bowling great Glenn McGrath has given the Aussie bowling attack his seal of approval.
Australia's fast-bowling cartel of Pat Cummins, Josh Hazlewood and Mitchell Starc are all rated in the world's top 10, with Cummins No.1 in the ICC rankings.
"They are right up there, without a doubt. Their stats prove that. Nathan Lyon has 350 Test wickets (as well)," McGrath, who is at the SCG for the pink Test, said.
"It's as good a bowling attack as we've had and the way they work together is pretty good."
All four of the quicks are under the age of 30, while 32-year-old Lyon shows no sign of letting up as he nears becoming just the third Australian to reach 400 wickets.