New Zealand v Australia, 1st Test, Wellington February 11, 2016

Green Basin Reserve pitch central to captains' planning


Play 01:54
'Must adapt to conditions better' - Smith

Fifteen wickets fell on the first day of the most recent Basin Reserve Test. The time before that it was 12. This time, who knows? But a surface that was more pitch-tinged green than green-tinged pitch, combined with the knowledge that the track generally flattens out and becomes easier for batting, meant New Zealand's captain Brendon McCullum had no hesitation in speaking on behalf of both teams on match eve.

"It's fair to say both teams will want to bowl if they win the toss," McCullum said.

By comparison, Steven Smith was sitting on the Basin's quaint picket fence when he declared that he would wait and see how the surface looked on Friday morning. "Traditionally the wickets here don't play quite as bad as they look," Smith said.

For that knowledge he has had to trust secondary sources, for no Australians in this current squad have played a Test in New Zealand; McCullum is about to play his 17th at the Basin Reserve alone. It is a venue with some fine recent memories for McCullum, who made 302 there in the second innings against India two years ago. There will be some finer memories if he helps New Zealand to a Trans-Tasman win there now.

And if indeed there is some swing on the first morning, and if indeed McCullum does win the toss and inserts Australia, it will be fascinating to see if Smith's men have learnt from their failures in England during last year's Ashes campaign. There, they were swung out for 136 at Edgbaston and 60 at Trent Bridge. Here there is no Stuart Broad or James Anderson to face, but there is a Trent Boult and a Tim Southee.

"The way they played in those seamer-friendly conditions is certainly something we can look at," McCullum said. "We've got a very good bowling line-up who will swing the ball and if the conditions do favour us, I'm confident we'll ask some tough questions.

"Our batting line-up is pretty similar to England; we've got some stroke-makers and some graft players. If you bat first, it's a matter of getting through those tough times and hanging in the game because it can change so late."

On match eve, Smith was the first to admit that his team had something to prove in swinging and seaming conditions; their mountains of runs during the home summer all came on flat pitches with little assistance for the bowlers. The Australians like to dominate when batting and use attack as a form of defence, but Smith acknowledged that sometimes defence was the best form of defence.

"You've got to play the ball under your eyes, you can't really push out in front of yourself," Smith said. "I think that's one of the most important things. Making sure you're leaving really well, being patient, and then if someone bowls a loose ball you've got to climb into it... Hopefully we've learnt from the way we played in England and we can adapt to whatever we're faced with out there.

"I think you do have to rein it back in at times. If someone is bowling well, whether it be on a flat wicket or a wicket that's doing a bit, you have to adapt to what's going on out there and rein it back in and wait for those loose balls. That's what Test cricket is all about. Batting time is key, and hopefully some of our batters can bat some long periods out here and get us some big scores like we had back home in the summer."

One man the Australians will almost certainly go after is the offspinner Mark Craig, who finished the recent Test series in Australia with the unflattering figures of 8 for 513, most of his wickets coming late in innings where Australia already had huge totals.

"I thought the boys played him really well back in Australia," Smith said. "I think the conditions are a little bit different here. The wicket has a little bit of grass on it, so it could potentially take a little bit of spin, I'm not too sure yet. I think if the wicket is nipping around a bit when the spinner comes on, I think he is certainly someone we can look to go after. But we'll just have to sum that up as the game goes on."

The lure for New Zealand in this series is the chance to lift the Trans-Tasman Trophy for the first time since 1993; Australia have not only the desire to keep their tight grip on the trophy, but also the added incentive of the No. 1 Test ranking. If they win the series they will jump to No. 1 for the first time since 2014.

"We want to be No. 1 in all formats of the game," Smith said. "That's our goal as a side. I guess you sort of have to put it in the back of your mind and focus on each game as it comes. I'm sure if we play well we'll have a lot of success on this tour. Obviously New Zealand are a very good side in these conditions so we're going to have to be at our best if we're going to beat them. But yeah, of course we'd love to be No. 1 at the end of this series."

Brydon Coverdale is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. @brydoncoverdale

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Gautam on February 11, 2016, 20:01 GMT

    If we (Aus) bat first, expect a total below 150 or possibly, even 100. Expect Smithy to be caught in slips for a single digit score as he usually does on pitches that do a bit - and as an average of 13 on swinging/seaming pitches testify. Bowling first is our only chance of remaining competitive, and with one of the worst overseas win/loss records in the last 10 years or so, even a drawn test out of two will be a victory for us. New Zealand hold the upper hand. Good luck, OZ!

  • Pete on February 11, 2016, 19:21 GMT

    To a large extent, I agree with JOSE...P - if Warner, Khawaja and Smith can't adapt to the swing, it says worrying things about Australia's touring adaptability.

    Still, I expect Voges to be rock solid this time - I think he knows his poor Ashes is a blemish on his outstanding Test career, and he can demonstrate that it was an aberration here.

  • carl on February 11, 2016, 16:41 GMT

    my advice to the captain who wins the toss - think about it, then bat

  • Jose on February 11, 2016, 15:22 GMT

    Australia's fate heavily depends on how these three batsmen in their lineup ADAPT to the seaming and swinging conditions: Warner, Khawaja, & Smith.

    I am expecting a low scoring match. I also expect Williamson doing a great job for NZ.

    For Oz, if two of the three mentioned earlier score heavily, they can win this one, the next, and also reach the top on the test totem pole.

  • Rohit on February 11, 2016, 13:33 GMT

    To Aussies,

    Last time when we were in England we had chance to be No. 1 but you started dancing against Broad & Co. and we lost that opportunity.

    Again we are in the same situation, Request you not to dance against Boult and Southee this time.

    Let's play hard & go Straight to No. 1

  • David on February 11, 2016, 12:04 GMT

    @front-foot-lunge-needs-a-hug Is what you are trying to say Front Foot that Australia is the only country in the world that is not doctoring their pitches to favour the strengths of the home team ? Surely not. No guarantees on winning the toss. Do remember that wickets in Australia are now predominantly drop in pitches due to AFL being played. This clearly in the past decade has impacted on how they play compared to past decades where each state differed much more with different characteristics from long established soil and subsoil.

  • carl on February 11, 2016, 11:21 GMT

    The Australians may struggle on seaming pitches but so does our great Indian team. Other teams also struggle like England who got bowled out for 103 and where 9/92 ending up with 149 on wickets in England that were apparently roads. I have not quite figured out how English and my own Indian fans blast australians for getting out easier on seaming tracks but ours and the England team can't bat on flat or pitches are suddenly called roads. My intuition tells me that maybe the Australian batsman are unfortunate enough to be actually better and manage to get the edge to moving balls whilst other teams miss the ball comfortably and that's why on proper wickets they have always been the gold standard in test cricket. Perhaps also this is why our Indian team has been slaughtered and the England team whitewashed 5-0 twice already this century down in Australia.

  • hamish on February 11, 2016, 10:47 GMT

    The Basin is famous for giant 3rd innings partnerships - Crowe/Jones, McCullum-Watling, and Williamson-Watling so even if it is green early on it will flatten out.

  • Kell on February 11, 2016, 9:29 GMT

    Glad they had marked out the pitch with lines it's so green you can't pick it out from the infield. Maybe they would be better to play lawn bowls. Jack high anyone. That being said nice to see a bit of colour in a track for a change. Bats might have their work cut out. No 5 day test tho which would be dissapointing. Hope the wicket isn't crazy.

  • John on February 11, 2016, 9:19 GMT

    A proper wicket to test the ability of the over rated Australian batsmen. It'll be a far cry from the now oh so typical Australian bat first roads found in abundance at Perth, Melbourne, Brisbane, etc - weren't we told ad infinitum on these forums that Australia only produces sporting pitches? Hmmm. When CA clearly conditions its team to play in such a way, it'll be fun watching Australia struggle yet again on pitches were the ball does a bit.

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