The T20 cricket fever has ended with the IPL, and now it is time for a vintage Test match showdown.
The change of pace for cricket fans will be presented in the form of the WTC final between Australia and India. The ICC World Test Championship is a two-year-long competition to choose the ultimate Test champion in the world.
Played between nine teams, the 2021-2023 WTC has India and Australia as its finalists. Australia (ranked 1) qualified for the final with 66.67% and 152 points, while India (ranked 2) qualified with 58.8% and 127 points.
Since the competition started way back in 2021, the anticipation surrounding it has been unmatched. Cricket fans across the globe are ready to find their next Test champion between the two giants.
The general consensus regarding the WTC final was favoring Australia to win the series. The official ICC match prediction and several top cricket betting sites only proposed a 35% chance of India winning the series.
However, the equilibrium has shifted, with the Australian team suffering a big loss. Josh Hazlewood, the right-arm pacer for Australia, has been ruled out from the finals due to an injury.
The bowler also missed most of IPL because of an Achilles injury, and the concern has resurfaced with a left side issue. The news has affected Australia’s preparation as Hazlewood was set to lead the pace attack with Mitchell Starc.
Ranked 12 in ICC player rankings for Test cricket, Hazlewood was a core part of the Australian bowling lineup.
Michael Neser’s Call-Up
One’s misfortune is another’s gain, and Hazlewood’s injury has allowed Michael Neser to join the team.
The fast-bowling all-rounder is considered a suitable replacement due to his prowess in both bowling and batting. While Neser has only played 2 Test matches for Australia, the player has shown his capabilities.
In the 2 Test matches, Neser scored 56 runs at an average of 19. The player stood out in the bowling front, securing 7 wickets in the 2 matches with an economy of 2.49.
The player has also played two ODIs for Australia back in 2018, scoring 8 runs and taking 1 wicket. However, seeing how the WTC finals will be played at the Oval, the player can prove to be a vital part of the team.
Neser has performed well in the Test format, making the all-rounder an apt fix for Hazlewood’s absence.
Neser’s Skills and Contributions
The 33-year-old all-rounder has been part of the Australian international squad only 4 times. However, the player has played 96 First Class matches, scoring 8,176 runs while taking 347 wickets.
As for replacing Hazlewood, Neser will have to rely on his consistent ability to hit the good length area. Unlike Josh, Neser does not create excess pace, except the bowler relies on accuracy.
In addition, it is Neser’s ability to swing the bowl both ways that makes him a dangerous opponent. Neser last played for Australia back in December 2022, helping the team register a 2-0 win against West Indies.
Thus, the player has shown the skills to play international cricket despite spending most of his career in First Class cricket.
Impact on Australia’s Game Plan
Losing a player like Hazlewood is sure to put any team under pressure. However, the star-studded Australian lineup seems capable enough to fill the gap left by the bowler.
Moreover, Neser’s addition can be a blessing in disguise, seeing how the all-rounder can bat in Test conditions for hours. In addition, the pacer can swing the ball, which could pose a threat in front of the Indian openers.
George Bailey, the chief of selectors and ex-Australian captain, talked about Hazlewood. According to Bailey, Josh was close to being fit for the WTC finals. However, the management wants to ensure the pacer stays fit for the upcoming schedule too.
With the Ashes fixed for June, the player will get ample rest and preparation, added Bailey.
Neser’s Opportunity and Expectations
The WTC finals against India will be Neser’s third time playing a Test for Australia. Thus, it goes without saying how big of an opportunity it is for the 33-year-old.
Neser’s performance in First Class cricket and his familiarity with the conditions put the player in an amazing spot. However, it will also put immense pressure on the player, adding on top of the pressure of playing at the Championship finals.
Andrew McDonald, the Australian coach, also talked about the shift. The coach praised Neser stating how the bowler boasts great strength to add to the bowling attack. Source
George Bailey also showed trust in Neser, saying how the all-rounder has put out strong performances in County cricket.
Preparations and Readjustments:
While talking about the latest team adjustment, Andrew McDonald shared an intriguing statement. The coach stated that there would be considerations surrounding management, with a few moving parts regarding the pacers.
Therefore, it can be deduced that the Australian team might be experimenting with the bowling lineup with Neser’s abilities. The fact that the team is captained by another pacer Pat Cummins shows great promise for the Australian quickies.
Coming back to Neser, it is apparent to state how the player is easily capable of performing in the Test format. Thus, it will be on Cummins and the team management to leverage Neser’s capabilities.
The bowler, with Starc on the other end, can put the Indian batting attack under pressure from the get-go.
After missing 15 of Australia’s previous 19 tests, it seemed like Josh Hazelwood was about to make a heroic appearance during the WTC finals. However, despite playing a couple of IPL games, the pacer seems to still suffer from an Achilles injury. The ranked 12 Test bowler was recently ruled out of the match against India, replaced by the 33-year-old all-rounder, Michael Neser. Neser has been a star in First Class cricket with 8,000+ runs and 340+ wickets. However, this will be the all-rounder’s third opportunity to play for Australia in Test cricket. Seeing how the player has been performing all across Australia puts immense faith in Neser’s capabilities.