Write them off at your peril
FORMER New Zealand Test wicketkeeper Ian Smith is backing Kane Williamson's team to be more than competitive with Tim Paine's Australia, as the Kiwis aim to end a barren spell on Australian shores going back more than 34 years.
Smith, part of the Fox Sports commentary team for the three-match series starting today in Perth, was part of the touring team to last win a series in Australia in the summer of 1985-86.
That Black Caps team included New Zealand greats Richard Hadlee, Martin Crowe and Jeremy Coney and won the series 2-1 with successes in Brisbane and Perth.
Smith sees some comparisons with that great team and the current outfit, calling Williamson and veteran Ross Taylor greats of the game, while also singing the praises of left-handed opener Tom Latham and wicketkeeper-batsman BJ Watling.
Latham has risen to 11 on the ICC Test batting rankings after five centuries and a double century in his past 11 Test innings, while Watling's last three innings have been 105, 205 and 55 - taking him up to No.14 on the ICC list.
"There are some world-class players in this side," said Smith, who made 63 Test appearances for New Zealand.
"They could be seen to be in the shadow of Williamson, but Latham has been slowly on the rise for the past couple of years, while Watling is one of the best batsmen in the top six.
"Ross Taylor also scored 290 at the WACA last time New Zealand were here.
"With Mitchell Santner coming in at eight in the current line-up, that means all of the top eight have scored Test centuries.
"If they can deny the Aussies quick wickets then that will put pressure on the Aussies because they will know that the New Zealanders have the depth to bat a long way down the batting order."
Smith said a strong Kiwi batting order would give coach Gary Stead and New Zealand supporters confidence and he believed the No.2 side in the world could win a Test and had a good chance of ending the long drought with a series win.
"I believe there is enough match-winning quality to do that (win a Test)," he said.
"Especially when you throw in the Trent Boult-Tim Southee bowling combination too.
"I think they will win a Test - I am not sure which one - but if they get a win in Perth then that will give the team the confidence to go on and search for a series success.
"They will know what to expect with the extra bounce and pace in Australia. The positive sign for this team is that they have played well for a number of years and they are just getting better and better."
Smith said winning the Test series against Australia back in 1985-86 was one of the highlights of his career, adding it was important that Stead's team settled in quickly.
"Perth is a bit of an unknown because none of the team have played at that venue (Optus Stadium) before," he said.
"It's important this team don't become spellbound by playing at the likes of the MCG and the Sydney Cricket Ground and that they try to come to terms with that.
"Australia are still the favourites because they are playing at home, but I think even if New Zealand doesn't get a win, the Aussies will know they have been in a battle."