Bird to play ahead of Pattinson
Jackson Bird will play his first Test since the 2013 Ashes tour after he was given the nod ahead of James Pattinson and Chadd Sayers for the first Test against New Zealand in Wellington. Australia's selectors chose Bird, Peter Siddle and Josh Hazlewood as the three frontline fast bowlers, due to uncertainty that Pattinson's fitness would allow him to get through the match.
Pattinson did not play throughout much of January due to shin soreness and made his return in last week's Sheffield Shield match for Victoria against Tasmania at the MCG. He bowled 21.3 overs in that game but was withdrawn early to fly to New Zealand, and the selectors have decided not to risk him in Wellington.
"The selectors weren't 100% sure whether he'd get through this first Test match, so that decision was made," Australia's captain Steven Smith said on Thursday. "Jackson Bird has been bowling extremely well. I saw him for the first time yesterday in the nets and I thought he bowled extremely well. I'm really happy with the XI we've picked and hopefully we can have a successful week."
There is only a short turnaround before the second Test in Christchurch, but the selectors and Smith are confident that the extra time will be enough for Pattinson to be available for that match, which starts on February 20.
"I think it's nice to just have that little bit of extra time," Smith said. "He can get a few bowls in in the nets over the next couple of days and the selectors are confident that he'll be fit and available for the second Test match."
The decision means that Bird, 29, will play the fourth Test of his career and the first for two and a half years. He debuted against Sri Lanka on Boxing Day in 2012 and was Man of the Match in his second Test against them at the SCG later in the same series, but has worn the baggy green only once since then - in Chester-le-Street during the unsuccessful 2013 Ashes campaign.
"He's always performed really well at Shield level and I think it's great that he gets another opportunity," Smith said. "I saw him bowling yesterday and I think he's bowling with quite good pace, he's hitting a good area and he's swinging the ball, and swinging it late, which is a great attribute to have. If he gets the ball in the right areas in this Test match I think he can do a bit of damage.
"He runs in all day, he's quite tall so he hits the bat a little bit higher than you think. He generally hits good areas. I think that's really important for us in this Test series, particularly if the wickets are going to do a little bit. If we're hitting good areas we're going to create a lot of chances and I think he can do that for us."
New Zealand also confirmed their XI on the eve of the Wellington Test, with Henry Nicholls set to make his debut batting at No.4 in the absence of the injured Ross Taylor. Corey Anderson has also returned for the first time since the Lord's Test against England in May last year, and Mark Craig has replaced the injured Mitchell Santner. The adjusted balance meant fast man Neil Wagner was axed.
"It was incredibly tough on Wags because he's done such a great job for us," New Zealand captain Brendon McCullum said. "But with losing Santner to injury and the balance of the team, we have to go in with a spinner. You've got to pick a team for five days and Mark Craig came back into calculations. Tough on Wagner, but otherwise I think the team picked itself."
New Zealand 1 Martin Guptill, 2 Tom Latham, 3 Kane Williamson, 4 Henry Nicholls, 5 Brendon McCullum, 6 Corey Anderson, 7 BJ Watling (wk), 8 Doug Bracewell, 9 Mark Craig, 10 Tim Southee, 11 Trent Boult.
Australia 1 David Warner, 2 Joe Burns, 3 Usman Khawaja, 4 Steven Smith (capt), 5 Adam Voges, 6 Mitchell Marsh, 7 Peter Nevill (wk), 8 Peter Siddle, 9 Josh Hazlewood, 10 Nathan Lyon, 11 Jackson Bird.
Brydon Coverdale is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. @brydoncoverdale