Brisbane, Nov 30: When he leads Australia into a test series on home soil for the first time, Michael Clarke will be dealing with a new coach and at least three teammates on debut against a New Zealand squad growing ever more confident of ending a long drought for visiting teams at the Gabba.
No longer an assembly of the Who's Who of international cricket, Australia's team heads into its summer with a public wondering who some of them are.
The ramifications of a Cricket Australia overhaul will start becoming apparent Thursday when the two-test series commences against a New Zealand squad also in the midst of rebuilding. New Zealand hasn't won a test on Australian soil since 1985. The Australians are unbeaten at the Gabba since '88. Yet there's little between the teams.
Clarke replaced Ricky Ponting as captain after Australia's World Cup quarterfinal exit in March, which came in the wake of a humbling home Ashes defeat to England that sparked a review of everything associated with the national team.
Clarke since has led tours to Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and South Africa, and still has the benefit of having 156-test veteran Ponting in the lineup.
"I've been hearing it's the start of a new era for eight months now, so to me it will be no different, my captaincy will be no different," Clarke said Wednesday. "I'm looking forward to starting the summer, I'd love to get off to a flyer against the Kiwis and build this momentum."
The Australians aren't exactly on a roll, with only three wins in their last 13 tests. The hosts are coming off a creditable drawn 1-1 series in South Africa earlier this month but lost five frontline players to injuries in the process, including pace spearhead Mitchell Johnson, allrounder Shane Watson and 18-year-old Pat Cummins, hero of the series-leveling win in Johannesburg.
In the first test at Cape Town, Clarke's team was bowled out for an embarrassing 47 and lost by eight wickets, earning harsh criticism at home, being called the worst test team since the dark age of Australian cricket in the mid-1980s. The fighting win at Johannesburg may have squared the series, but there are fears among local fans that it only papered over the cracks.
Those same fans are now having to research the pacemen likely to play against New Zealand. The options are James Pattinson and Ben Cutting and left-armer Mitch Starc -- they're all young, all quick and all uncapped. They're vying for two spots in a pace attack led by Peter Siddle, who has only played 25 tests himself, and supplemented by spinner Nathan Lyon.
It's a long way from where Australia was four years ago: at the top of the rankings and with two of the world's three leading bowlers in Shane Warne and Glenn McGrath.
Clarke, who is now on a freshly composed five-man selection panel along with new coach Mickey Arthur, faced all three youngsters in the nets this week and was impressed that none of them was too scared to bowl bouncers at him.
"We're confident we can take 20 wickets with that attack," the 30-year-old skipper said.
Twenty20 regular David Warner will make his test debut alongside Phil Hughes, who only regained his opening spot when veteran Simon Katich was shelved despite being among Australia's top batsmen last season. Usman Khawaja, starting his fifth test, will bat at No. 3.
Australia's strength should be the middle order, with Ponting, Clarke, Mike Hussey and wicketkeeper Brad Haddin shoring up Nos. 4-7.
"The experienced guys will need to stand up, me included, and make sure we lead from the front," Clarke said.
The Australians will miss Watson's skills as batsman and change bowler, while Johnson's absence exposes a long tail to the batting order.
Ross Taylor's Black Caps head into the series after beating Zimbabwe on a lifeless track at Bulawayo and savaging the second-string Australian attack in a tour match at Allan Border Field in Brisbane last weekend. Jesse Ryder plundered 175 while Taylor and Brendon McCullum also posted hundreds.
The New Zealanders know the conditions will be different at the Gabba, which offers good bounce and pace and will be tricky on the first morning if the forecast thunderstorms are gathering, but Taylor remained convinced last weekend's match has them "in a good space."
"Our batters are confident. We've scored runs in the last two first-class games," he said. "We just need to take that confidence out here on the wicket at the Gabba."
Like the Australians, the New Zealand attack will be short on experience when spinner Dan Vettori or Chris Martin aren't bowling.
Tim Southee, who caused problems for Australia here in 2008 in the third of his 13 tests when he removed Matt Hayden, Katich and Ponting in the first session, remains relatively unproven.
So too does Doug Bracewell, nephew of John Bracewell, well known to Australians for his exploits with bat and ball for New Zealand. The 21-year-old nephew made an impressive debut with a five-wicket haul.
"He's an exciting talent who not only can bowl fast but is a handy allrounder -- I'm sure in years to come will be one of the best allrounders in the world," Taylor said.
With 108-test veteran Vettori and Bracewell in the lineup, the New Zealanders can bat down to No. 9. And that enhances Taylor's confidence ahead of only his second test as skipper.
"I've played in some big games before. I don't think I need any more motivation than playing against Australia," said Taylor, who scored a hundred in his previous test against Australia in March last year. "I understand what comes with that and I'm not fearing away from it and I'm looking forward to the challenge."
Australia (from): Phillip Hughes, David Warner, Usman Khawaja, Ricky Ponting, Michael Clarke (captain), Michael Hussey, Brad Haddin, Peter Siddle, Mitchell Starc, Nathan Lyon, James Pattinson, Ben Cutting.
New Zealand (from): Martin Guptill, Brendon McCullum, Kane Williamson, Ross Taylor (captain), Jesse Ryder, Dean Brownlie, Daniel Vettori, Reece Young, Doug Bracewell, Tim Southee, Chris Martin, Trent Boult.