Australia test new-look squad
Before New Zealand became a regular Test opponent Australia rewarded fringe players with a Trans-Tasman tour and the current selectors have taken a modern slant on B-sides by picking an under-manned squad for the Chappell-Hadlee Trophy. While New Zealand will field their first choices during the three games, Australia have left their captain and vice-captain at home and Andrew Symonds is recovering from a serious arm injury.
Adding to the visitors' lack of power is a Brett Lee ankle injury and a hip problem to Michael Clarke, who is second-in-charge after Ricky Ponting decided to have treatment on his back and Adam Gilchrist rested. The changes mean Australia have picked a raw squad, including Adam Voges, Cameron White, Brad Haddin and the on-standby Phil Jaques, and the competition that has been wedged into a crammed itinerary has become an inconvenience, even though they were upended in the CB Series finals.
If Clarke is ruled out, Matthew Hayden will be the only one of Australia's top four who is batting in his usual position while Brad Hodge, the No. 5, is keeping Symonds' spot warm. The third-year series that the organisers pipe-dreamed would develop into an All Blacks-Wallabies rivalry is achieving the credibility of a pre-season warm-up.
In the New Zealand corner there is no danger of the trophy being tarnished by a low-key attitude. The matches, starting in Wellington on Friday, are a crucial chance to fine-tune after the disappointment of missing the CB Series finals when bundled out by England.
Stephen Fleming returned to face severe scrutiny following the early exit, but New Zealand were boosted by strong performances from Jacob Oram, Shane Bond and Lou Vincent. Bond, who collected 11 wickets in six games, and Oram (261 runs at 87) proved their fitness in style while Vincent's three half-centuries made sure the spot of the retired Nathan Astle could be covered. Peter Fulton and Michael Mason were dropped from the touring squad for this series and the only extra is Daryl Tuffey, who has returned for the first time in two years after recovering from a shoulder problem.
Apart from an experimental batting line-up, Australia's main area to improve is the fast bowling, which struggled under pressure over the past month and was unable to threaten England during three consecutive losses. In a take on naughty-boy nets, the selectors refused to rest any of the fast men from the week-long trip and they will try to spend the time honing yorkers and closing-over tactics.
The at-the-death problem was also exposed during the previous Chappell-Hadlee Trophy when Australia, who won the 2005 series 2-1, gave up totals of 320 and 332. In the six games played for the trophy recognising the two families, Australia have been successful three times and the deciding match of the inaugural series was washed out in Brisbane.
Michael Hussey has been handed the captaincy in Ponting's absence and he will look to improve on his one loss against West Indies in Malaysia last September. The opening day-night game will be followed by fixtures at Auckland on Sunday and Hamilton on Tuesday. By then New Zealand should have an idea of their World Cup prospects and Australia will be able to pass judgement on some of the next-generation batsmen.
Australia squad Matthew Hayden, Shane Watson, Phil Jaques, Michael Clarke, Brad Hodge, Michael Hussey (capt), Adam Voges, Brad Haddin (wk), Cameron White, Brad Hogg, Brett Lee, Mitchell Johnson, Nathan Bracken, Glenn McGrath.
New Zealand squad Stephen Fleming (capt), Shane Bond, James Franklin, Mark Gillespie, Brendon McCullum (wk), Craig McMillan, Jacob Oram, Jeetan Patel, Scott Styris, Ross Taylor, Daryl Tuffey, Daniel Vettori, Lou Vincent.
Peter English is the Australasian editor of Cricinfo