SYDNEY           -           Having already lost the series with back-to-back defeats in Perth and Melbourne, New Zealand have been further plagued by their players going down with injuries and illness ahead of the third Test, beginning today (Friday) in Sydney.

New Zealand's 247-run defeat in the Boxing Day Test marked their first Test series loss in more than two years. In Perth, they missed the services of Trent Boult, who has now been ruled out of the series, after having sustained a fracture to the second metacarpal of his right hand while batting in the Melbourne Test. To add to the misery, skipper Kane Williamson and batsman Henry Nicholls are known to have missed back-to-back training sessions with flu-like symptoms. Auckland batsman Glenn Phillips has been called up as cover for the duo.

That, however, doesn't quite justify the results. New Zealand's batting has been a complete failure, barring Tom Blundell, who scored a gritty 121 on his comeback in the second Test. Neil Wagner has shown some spark with the ball, with 14 wickets from two Tests so far, but lack of support from the other end has allowed Australia to keep racing ahead. Despite having already lost the series, however, New Zealand have plenty to play for, as a win in Sydney would help them climb two spots in the ICC World Test Championship standings.

Australia, on the other hand, have given themselves a chance to close in the gap with the top-placed India. While the bowling hasn't given any breathing space to the opposition, despite the unavailability of Josh Hazlewood, the batting looks all the more solid, after contributions from Matthew Wade and skipper Tim Paine. Sydney's spin-assisting surface presents a strong case for leg-spinner Mitchell Swepson's debut, but whether the hosts tinker with their winning combination remains to be seen.

Australia lost both their openers before lunch after being put in to bat on the first day of the second Test, but were guided along nicely by Marnus Labuschagne and Steve Smith, both of whom scored fifties, before Travis Head's maiden Test ton and Paine's 79 powered Australia to a first-innings total of 467/7 declared. The pace trio of Pat Cummins, Mitchell Starc and James Pattinson then had the visitors rattled, with Cummins registering a fifer to give Australia a massive 319-run first-innings lead.

The visitors' top six added another 167 runs in their second innings to set New Zealand a huge 488-run target. Blundell showed grit and patience during his 210-ball stay, but that wasn't enough as the rest of the batting crumbled to result in a 247-run defeat.

Tim Paine, Australia captain, said: "I think at the moment it would be likely that we would go unchanged, but there's still a possibility, if we see that wicket tomorrow morning, that we could play another spinner. We've got some guys around our squad that could provide quite a bit of flexibility, and even someone like James Pattinson can really lengthen our batting anyway. Our preference would be to keep a winning combination together."

Gary Stead, New Zealand head coach, said: "We were obviously beaten up by Australia again. I want to acknowledge how well they played; we're up against a quality team at the very top of their game. For us, I think, we've got to find some areas where we can keep chipping away, make improvements and put Australia under pressure for longer."

Light rains are expected on the first morning of the Test, which might result in a delayed start. The weather is expected to stay overcast for the next few days, which could provide significant assistance to the quicker bowlers.


AUSTRALIA (PROBABLE): David Warner, Joe Burns, Marnus Labuschagne, Steven Smith, Travis Head, Matthew Wade, Tim Paine (capt & wk), Pat Cummins, James Pattinson, Mitchell Starc, Nathan Lyon.

NEW ZEALAND (PROBABLE): Tom Latham, Tom Blundell, Kane Williamson (capt), Ross Taylor, Henry Nicholls, BJ Watling (wk), Colin de Grandhomme, Tim Southee, Matt Henry, Will Somerville, Neil Wagner.