Australia's test of nerve, McCullum's last hurrah
February 20-24, 2016
Start time 10.30 local (21.30 GMT)
Australia need only a draw to become the world's No. 1 Test team. Easier said than done, for a few reasons. First, it has been an awful long time since Australia have been consistent away from home. Australia won consecutive Tests in the Caribbean against the woeful West Indies in early 2015, but the previous time they managed that was in New Zealand as far back as 2010. Plenty of times - think England 2009, Pakistan (in England) 2010, South Africa 2014, England 2015 - an Australian touring team have followed resounding victory with abject defeat. Well as Steven Smith's team played in Wellington, they have this mental hurdle to negotiate over the next five days.
Secondly, it is an essential part of this Australian team's DNA to play for a win. Thoughts of absorbing New Zealand's efforts to force a win through self-preserving tactical decisions are unlikely to enter the minds of Smith and the coach Darren Lehmann. Instead they will be going for victory and a 2-0 margin, on a pitch likely to favour the seam bowlers for even longer than the Basin Reserve did. New Zealand's coach Mike Hesson made no secret of his desire to see the Hagley Oval surface prepared to be as lively as possible, so the ball seams around for more than the first morning. Such an outcome may lessen the importance of the toss, but it should also cut the draw out of the equation, making Australia's chance of a successful series closer to 50/50 than 66/33.
Lastly, this is of course Brendon McCullum's final match for New Zealand, an occasion weighty with emotion for every player in the home side and every spectator expected to turn up at a sold out Hagley Oval. The Australians know from personal experience that retirements don't always inspire great Test match performances, but there remains the chance of an exceptionally steely New Zealand display not only for McCullum, but to try to keep intact the team's proud record of not having lost a series at home since 2012. In replacing the injured Doug Bracewell with Matt Henry, they also have the added benefit of including a bowler who was critical to the ODI series win - his duel with Smith will be particularly bracing.
New Zealand: LWWLD (last five completed matches, most recent first)
In the spotlight
In Australia last year, Kane Williamson was close to impassable. This time around, Smith's team have found him somewhat less difficult to dislodge, as disciplined plans to keep Williamson pinned down around the off stump have been rewarded consistently. Equally, Williamson's eagerness to get off to a firm start by capitalising on full deliveries down the ground was penalised by the early seaming conditions at the Basin Reserve. In the final match before he likely takes over the mantle of all-format leadership from McCullum, Williamson will be hoping to set the batting example for his team - substance is required, and he is the best man to deliver it.
Amid the batting feast in Wellington, David Warner sat and watched, doubtless wondering what might have been without his early slash at a Tim Southee delivery angled across him. Such dismissals have seldom been glimpsed when Warner has batted at home over the past three seasons, but they have become increasingly prevalent abroad. Not since Pakistan in October 2014 has he made an overseas Test hundred - in Australia over that period he's made two at the SCG alone. As vice-captain, Warner's enormous ability needs to be melded with responsibility, and to make a century in Christchurch, thus helping Australia to global supremacy, would be a strong step in that direction.
Doug Bracewell's injury absence will open up a chance for Matt Henry, while the hosts are still mulling over the possible inclusion of Neil Wagner in place of Mark Craig.
New Zealand (possible) 1 Martin Guptill, 2 Tom Latham, 3 Kane Williamson, 4 Henry Nicholls, 5 Brendon McCullum (capt), 6 Corey Anderson, 7 BJ Watling (wk), 8 Mark Craig/Neil Wagner, 9 Tim Southee, 10 Matt Henry, 11 Trent Boult
James Pattinson will come into the Australian side in place of the injured Peter Siddle.
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 James Pattinson, 9 Josh Hazlewood, 10 Nathan Lyon, 11 Jackson Bird
Pitch and conditions
Hagley Oval's pitch looks similarly green to that of Basin Reserve, and both teams are curious as to how it will play. "I think it actually looks pretty similar to the last wicket the day before the game," Smith said. "It's quite hard to tell how it's going to play until you get out there on the morning of the game when they've given it a roll and you see it for the last time."
Stats and trivia
- Australia will become the world's No. 1 ranked Test team with a win or draw in Christchurch
- New Zealand have twice come back from 1-0 down to tie a Test series with Australia, at home in 1993 and away in 2011
- New Zealand won the only previous Test played at Hagley Oval, against Sri Lanka in December 2014
"The goal of this team is to be No. 1 in all formats of the game, and if we win this week, we tick off two of those formats. But for me it is about making sure we are improving and being better."
Steven Smith on his ambitions for Australia
Daniel Brettig is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. @danbrettig