Uncertainty for both sides at Basin Reserve
February 12-16, 2016
Start time 10.30 local (21.30 GMT)
More than five years after their last cricket contact outside of ICC events, Australia and New Zealand resumed Test combat late last year. If a slow start by the tourists is discounted due to their ordinary preparation - including the Blacktown abandonment - then it was a keenly fought contest, curtailed somewhat by a dead pitch in Perth but enlivened under the lights of Adelaide Oval. That match arguably turned on one contentious umpiring decision in favour of Nathan Lyon, meaning Australia's 2-0 margin was nowhere near as comfortable as it appeared.
Now the tables are somewhat turned. New Zealand are at home, with the benefit of local knowledge. Australia are out of their comfort zone, and with a weakened bowling attack. There is also the considerable sub plot of Brendon McCullum's final series and his 100th Test (in Wellington, he is set to become the first player to play 100 Tests in a row), and all of New Zealand will be baying for the most fitting possible farewell - a first series victory over Australia since 1986. By way of assistance to the hosts, the Basin Reserve pitch has plenty of grassy coverage, and in Trent Boult, Tim Southee and Doug Bracewell, New Zealand have a bowling attack capable of exploiting it. They will hope that some of the recent ODI form lines - notably the free-spirited batting of Martin Guptill - flow into the Tests.
For Steven Smith's side there is the lure of picking up the No. 1 Test ranking with a series victory, not at any sort of World Championship but before the "annual cut-off" currently deemed prestigious enough for the game. But more broadly Smith, the coach Darren Lehmann, the selectors and the players will all have atonement for last year's Ashes misadventures on their minds. Unable to choose Mitchell Starc, they have opted for a seam-bowling attack that would not have looked out of place at Trent Bridge, but it is the batting order that needs to stand up. Oodles of runs on the roads of Brisbane, Perth, Hobart and Melbourne will have little relevance here, but the improved display at The Oval after the Ashes were gone just might. Helpful memories, of course, are all the Australians have - zero practice matches have left them unsure of where they stand.
New Zealand: WWLDL (last five completed matches, most recent first)
In the spotlight
Not quite at his best during the Australia tour, Trent Boult has regained much of his rhythm and swing in the intervening weeks, and was a consistent threat during the ODIs. Alongside Southee, Bracwell and Corey Anderson he should expect more sustained movement through the air and off the pitch, more akin to Adelaide's pink-ball environment than those of Brisbane or Perth. The New Zealand bowling attack has been widely lauded as the nation's most capable since the days of Sir Richard Hadlee, and it will take a strong performance from Boult to help deliver the sort of series wins of which Hadlee was a major part.
There were few superlatives left for Usman Khawaja by the end of the home summer. A stack of centuries and other scores nearly as significant left most to conclude he was batting better than anyone else in the world right now, and his uncertain limited-overs place was a source of some disquiet. But there was one thing missing from Khawaja's summer, and also his international career. With the exception of an outlier display at the Wanderers in 2011, Khawaja is yet to show himself an adept player on seaming pitches. Since that time he has moved to Queensland, and some of his Gabba experiences will help. Proving himself in New Zealand climes will go a long way towards securing the series for Australia.
Henry Nicholls debuts at No. 4 in place of the unfit Ross Taylor, while Corey Anderson and Mark Craig are in for Mitchell Santner (foot injury) and Neil Wagner (left out).
New Zealand 1 Martin Guptill, 2 Tom Latham, 3 Kane Williamson, 4 Henry Nicholls, 5 Brendon McCullum (capt), 6 Corey Anderson, 7 BJ Watling (wk), 8 Doug Bracewell, 9 Mark Craig, 10 Tim Southee, 11 Trent Boult
Jackson Bird was chosen ahead of James Pattinson as the third seamer, while Peter Siddle resumes, having missed the Sydney Test against West Indies.
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
Pitch and conditions
The Basin Reserve pitch was verdant green two days out from the match, and even if its colour may not denote as much seam movement as it appears, the ball will be kept in good condition by the surface and should swing.
Stats and trivia
- Australia's last Test series in New Zealand in 2010 resulted in a 2-0 series win for the visitors, including the first Test at Basin Reserve
- Steven Smith, then uncapped, is the only member of that touring squad to be in the team this time around
- Martin Guptill, Brendon McCullum and Tim Southee are the remaining New Zealand players
- Australia will attain the world No. 1 Test ranking with a series win
"I'm looking forward to finishing these next two Test matches. It's going to be a great series, two very evenly matched teams I think, and what better way to go out?"
Brendon McCullum anticipates his farewell bout
"We haven't been good enough with the bat on wickets that have been doing a bit in the last year or so. 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."
Steven Smith on Australia's weakness for seaming conditions.
Daniel Brettig is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. @danbrettig