Australia look to rebound in rare trans-Tasman Test

Ben McKay |

Pat Cummins (r) has named an unchanged first-Test side to face NZ, with Steve Smith (l) at opener.
Pat Cummins (r) has named an unchanged first-Test side to face NZ, with Steve Smith (l) at opener.

It’s not often the highlight of the Australian summer of cricket happens outside Australia.

However, the tasty prospect of the first Test tour to New Zealand in eight years, with the Black Caps at a historically high-water mark, means high anticipation on both sides of the Tasman.

It’s also a battle of the two World Test Championship winners to date; holders Australia against inaugural champions New Zealand.

The great shame, given the limited hit-outs between the two, is the series is only two Test matches, beginning at Wellington’s Basin Reserve on Thursday and concluding in Christchurch next week.

Pat Cummins is one of several to have never played a Test in New Zealand, relying on advice from Australia’s bowling coach – legendary Kiwi spinner Daniel Vettori.

Marnus Labuschagne, Daniel Vettori and Steve Smith.
Kiwi spinning legend Daniel Vettori (C) lends some advice to Marnus Labuschagne and Steve Smith. (Darren England/AAP PHOTOS)

“He’s always got good insights. He’s played a lot here,” Cummins said.

The Test skipper – eager to bounce back from a shock Test loss to West Indies in Australia’s last outing – said Australia would run out with the same XI for that Test.

“No surprises and it’s always nice to have a full contingent to pick from,” Cummins said.

“There’s a real calmness around the group. Everyone’s played enough Test cricket so it doesn’t feel like we ever need to reinvent the wheel.”

In contrast, the hosts have an unsettled side, knocked around by injury and form.

Devon Conway will miss the Test, and possibly the series, after failing to recover from a thumb injury suffered in the T20 series last week.

He joins spearhead paceman Kyle Jamieson on the sidelines, who has a stress fracture in his back, as well as Neil Wagner.

Wagner had troubled Australia, and particularly Steve Smith, on recent tours but chose to retire this week after being informed by coach Gary Stead he wouldn’t be picked.

Kiwi skipper Tim Southee confirmed on Wednesday that young quick Will O’Rourke would play, fresh from a nine-wicket haul on Test debut a fortnight earlier.

Southee confirmed Will Young would replace Conway, with the final selection – a seam v spin battle between Scott Kuggeleijn and Mitchell Santner – to be decided before the toss.

That decision will hinge on the pitch, which both sides weren’t able to train on due to persistent rain in the capital on Wednesday.

Tim Southee and Pat Cummins.
Captains Tim Southee and Pat Cummins head out to inspect the wicket in Wellington. (Andrew Cornaga/AAP PHOTOS)

While pitches in New Zealand are commonly more grassy than in other Test-playing nations, the Basin was sporting an especially green-topped wicket on last glimpse on Tuesday.

Cummins said, should he win the toss, bowling was “a live option”.

“Coming from Australia, it’s rare to turn on TV and see a green wicket that looks like the turf here, but over here, it’s pretty normal,” he said.

“I don’t think it’s as scary as perhaps what it looks. Seems like there’s been plenty of first inning scores that have been big.”

Australia have dominated recent clashes with the Black Caps, who have one Test victory in the last 31 years: a 2011 win in Hobart.

Nathan Lyon, who played in that clash, said he too had leaned on Vettori for advice.

“He’s been able to get us some really good insights in the way the New Zealand batters think which is amazing,” he said of the fellow spinner.

“As someone who did have similar craft himself, he’s been incredibly valuable for my career since he’s jumped on board the last last couple of years or so.

“It’s amazing to have a Kiwi legend in our change room handing out all the secrets.”

AUSTRALIA: Steve Smith, Usman Khawaja, Marnus Labuschagne, Cameron Green, Travis Head, Mitchell Marsh, Alex Carey, Mitchell Starc, Pat Cummins, Nathan Lyon, Josh Hazlewood.

NEW ZEALAND: Tom Latham, Will Young, Kane Williamson, Rachin Ravindra, Daryl Mitchell, Tom Blundell, Glenn Phillips, Matt Henry, Mitch Santner/Scott Kuggeleijn, Tim Southee, Will O’Rourke.

AAP