Australia might have taken an unassailable 2-0 lead in the three-match series over New Zealand, but with this series being a part of the World Test Championship, and with 40 crucial points on offer, by no means this encounter is a dead rubber. The Black Caps have been hammered in both Tests and Kane Williamson and Co. will have a point to prove when they walk out at the SCG on January 3.
Australia comfortably lead as far as the head-to-head record is concerned. The hosts have won 33 of the 59 Tests played between the two countries with only eight going to New Zealand.
In the last five Tests between these two sides too, Australia hold the aces having won all of these encounters.
Ground Details and Team Combination:
The Sydney Cricket Ground has hosted 107 Tests and the nature of the surface here has changed over the years. Batting here has become a lot easier compared to the early days.
In Tests since January 2015, batsmen have scored runs at an average of 47.4 runs per wicket here, which is the most for any ground in Australia during the time period, while bowlers have managed a wicket only every 83.9 balls, again worst for any ground in Australia in this time frame.
So packing your side with at least five solid frontline batsmen should be a no-brainer.
While pacers and spinners have both suffered equally here, the SCG is known for providing some assistance to the tweakers as the game goes on. This is the only venue in Australia where a team can go with two frontline spinners. However, both pacers or spinners have struggled here in the recent past. In the last five Tests played at this venue, fast bowlers have returned 62 wickets striking every 84.1 balls while the spinners have picked up 48 wickets at a strike-rate of 94.2.
Delving deeper into the bowler types, left-arm spinners have been the most successful here in the last five years as they have picked up a wicket every 60.1 deliveries. However, the only option we have is Mitchell Santner who has been horrible in this series so far. The last time Australia played a Test here in 2018, India's Kuldeep Yadav picked up a five-wicket haul.
A combination of five frontline batsmen including the wicket-keeper, two all-rounders, one spinner and three fast bowlers could be the way to go for this Test.
1104 runs at 64.94! Marnus Labuschagne had a magnificent 2019 and was the only batsman to score over 1000 runs in Test cricket this year. He came in as a concussion substitute for Steve Smith during the Ashes and boy he made this opportunity count! Whenever he has walked out to bat, Labuschagne has looked like an immovable object. The right-hander loves batting and is someone who can keep going and going. After a terrific 2019, Labuschagne will look to carry forward his form in 2020 and what better surface than SCG to get going.
It's been five Tests since Steven Smith scored a century in Test cricket. While it might be alright for some batsmen to go through a few Tests not managing a hundred, this is Smith we are talking about and he is due for a big one. New Zealand paceman Neil Wagner seemed to have worked Smith out, having dismissed him four out of four times in this series. The left-arm fast bowler has been relentless against Smith and the No. 4 batsman will have to find a way to get the better of Wagner in Sydney. Smith has a solid record at this venue, having scored 548 runs at 68.5.
The fact that Neil Wagner finished 2019 as the second-ranked bowler in ICC Test rankings without any hype around him is a testimony to the hard work he puts in on the field. During the recently concluded Boxing Day Test, he became only the fifth bowler to complete 40 Test wickets this year, although, at a better bowling average than anyone in the lot (17.8). A workhorse, he can take pride in decoding Smith, whom he has dismissed four times in four innings, peppering him with relentless short-balls.
The offspinner might have been the second highest wicket-taker last year but 2019 wasn't a great year for Nathan Lyon. The 32-year-old operated at an average of 33.26 and a strike rate of 68.7. His numbers at the SCG aren't great either but Lyon has done a decent job for his team in this series. He has scalped 11 wickets so far at 22.70 and will look to better his record when he gets an opportunity to bowl in Sydney where he will get enough purchase from the surface. Batting on Day 4 and 5 won't be easy and that's when Lyon will be expected to do most of the damage.
It's going be windy and cloudy in Sydney and there are also chances of heavy showers. It's going to be slightly more cooler than Perth and Melbourne, and rain might play a spoilsport on couple of days.
David Warner (vc), Tom Blundell, Tom Latham, Marnus Labuschagne (c), Steve Smith, Ross Taylor, Travis Head, Pat Cummins, James Pattinson, Neil Wagner, Nathan Lyon.