Harris and Arnel await news on debuts
Ryan Harris and Brent Arnel couldn't have wished for better conditions to begin their Test careers than the green-top at the Basin Reserve, where both men have a strong chance of making their debuts on Friday. Harris will become the 413th Australian Test cricketer, provided he has no problems recovering from a minor side injury, while the grassy surface has pushed Arnel in to strong contention to bump the spinner Jeetan Patel out of New Zealand's line-up.
Pace and bounce have been the features of warm-up sessions in Wellington and Ricky Ponting said facing up on the practice pitches was "like we were batting at the WACA", compared to the slower one-day surfaces used recently. That will encourage Harris, whose excellent ODI form over the past two months - 28 wickets at 14.14 in 11 games - has pushed him ahead of Clint McKay in the Test reckoning.
"He is a guy who can genuinely swing the ball at brisk pace," Ponting said. "You are always looking for someone who can use the new ball really well. We unearthed a couple last year who could do that in Ben Hilfenhaus and Dougie Bollinger.
"With Hilfenhaus not being here and Siddle not being here, someone who can use that new ball, I think Ryan fits all those things really well. In the one-day games, I think it was three or four games in a row back in Australia he got a wicket in the first over of the game swinging the new ball. So hopefully he can have the same sort of effect if he comes up for this Test match."
It is remarkable that Harris could be in line for a Test debut in a season when he has played only one Sheffield Shield match due to an injury at the start of the summer and his one-day commitments. But it now seems the only thing that can keep him out is the side problem that prompted Australia to fly the South Australian fast man Peter George in to join the squad as cover.
Harris bowled in the indoor nets at Westpac Stadium on Wednesday while rain scuppered his chances of having a run outdoors. The Australians were being extra cautious by bringing in George, with the expectation that Harris would continue to recover well with a lengthy session at the Basin Reserve on match eve.
"He bowled about five overs yesterday indoors which probably wasn't ideal for us or for him," Ponting said. "He'll do a lot more bowling today for us to get a bit more of a feel on where he's at. But everything he has done in the last couple of days with his bowling has been good. Things at the moment are pretty positive with him. Ryan will play if he gets through as well as we want him to today and we'll wait and see how he wakes up in the morning."
New Zealand have seen plenty of Harris through the one-day series but Australia know little about Arnel, the Northern Districts bowler who is likely to play his first Test. Daniel Vettori would not commit to Arnel over Patel with a day's preparation remaining, but he said the conditions made it more likely than not that Arnel would have the edge.
At 31, he has enjoyed the first-class scene after being a late starter, not making his first appearance until 27. This summer Arnel has taken 29 Plunket Shield wickets at 19.58 and Vettori said he was confident that Arnel could make the step up to Test level.
"He's been waiting in the wings a little while and has been involved in a few squads," Vettori said. "Hopefully if he does get the nod then he is ready. He's been bowling really well and that's the main thing. He's pretty consistent, he puts it in the right areas the majority of the time and on a wicket that's got a little bit of something in it, that's pretty crucial."
Brydon Coverdale is a staff writer at Cricinfo