Moving ball to test Australian technique in Wellington
By Greg Stutchbury
WELLINGTON (Reuters) - Swing and seam friendly conditions, a lack of truly scary Australian bowlers and New Zealand captain Brendon McCullum's retirement are all themes that will resonate when the first test gets underway in Wellington on Friday.
The Basin Reserve wicket was heavily grassed just 48 hours out from the toss and, even if brilliant sunshine in New Zealand's capital was expected to brown it off, McCullum and Steve Smith are still likely to ask the opposition to bat.
Similarly-grassed pitches in New Zealand in recent years have not helped the fast bowlers as much as expected, however, as both captains noted on Thursday.
"I think the wicket will dry out quicker than what you'd expect," McCullum said. "The first two days will be challenging for the batsmen ... (and) you have to just hang in there and get a competitive score.
"It's not going to be the 500 or 600 but you just have to be competitive and then the third and fourth innings are where things take shape."
Despite having won 29 of their 55 previous tests against New Zealand and taken the home encounter 2-0 last November, Australia are not overwhelming favourites to win the series and reclaim the number one ranking in test cricket.
Their pace bowling unit of Peter Siddle, Jackson Bird and new spearhead Josh Hazlewood lacks the blistering speed of the two Mitchells, Starc and Johnson, both of whom created doubt, and at times fear, in the minds of batsmen.
Hazlewood's ability to swing the ball and Siddle's to seam it off the pitch should create issues for New Zealand but the Australians have shown they are not immune to struggles with similar movement.
Last year at Trent Bridge, Stuart Broad showed how badly they play the moving ball when he took 8-15 as England skittled the tourists for 60 in their first innings.
"We haven't been good enough with the bat on wickets that have been doing a bit in the last year or so," Smith said.
"The wicket here looks like it might do a bit so we've got a bit to prove and we've got to adapt accordingly, a lot better than we have in recent times."
New Zealand's opening duo Tim Southee and Trent Boult have the ability to swing and seam the ball and while they have been down on pace this summer, recent outings have suggested they are pushing it back into the 140kph plus range.
That pace will be needed to try and put pressure on an Australian side which is likely to retain the aggressive mindset that has characterised their batting in recent years.
Underpinning the entire series is the fact McCullum will retire after the second test in Christchurch.
The first match at the Basin Reserve will be his 100th test, all of which have been played in succession since his debut in 2004.
"I'm looking forward to these two test matches," McCullum said. "It will be a great series, two evenly matched teams.
"Not a better way to go out really."
(Editing by Nick Mulvenney)