Sinclair versus Ingram for key spot at three
Jeetan Patel has been given the nod ahead of James Franklin but New Zealand's top-order batting remains a concern a day out from the second Test in Hamilton. Mathew Sinclair is the favourite to take over from Peter Ingram at No. 3 and has the support of the batting coach Martin Crowe.
Ricky Ponting believes the position is a vital one for New Zealand's hopes of levelling the series. "Three is a big spot in the batting line up, there is no doubt about that," Ponting said. "Guys like Ingram and BJ Watling, they will go through their ups and downs and it will be interesting to see how they react. Sinclair hasn't played a Test for a couple of years so it depends whether they want to go that way or stick with guys they've given an opportunity to. For us, we've got pretty good plans in place for their players."
Crowe has been working with the New Zealand batsmen in the past few weeks and he has been impressed with Sinclair's willingness to learn. He believes the veteran would be a better option at No. 3 than Ingram, who has failed to take his opportunities at the Basin Reserve and in the earlier limited-overs games.
"I hope he does get picked," Crowe said on Radio Sport. "I think he's the guy who of all the No. 3s would be able to blunt the Australian attack because of his experience and the way he's playing at the moment. He's worth a punt. I'd play him again. He could possibly play for the next couple of years as a Test specialist."
The captain Daniel Vettori and coach Mark Greatbatch were set to decide on a final line-up on Friday afternoon. Vettori said New Zealand's good summer leading in to the Australian series would be all but forgotten if they failed again at Seddon Park after their 10-wicket defeat at the Basin Reserve.
"If we perform well here then it's been a very good summer, if we don't then people remember what's fresh in their minds, the two Test matches," Vettori said. "Like I said in Wellington, our performance here will define our summer. We've got a lot to be proud of looking back to the Champions Trophy and maybe winning the Test series against Pakistan if it wasn't for rain. But I understand that people have short memories."
For Australia, victory in Hamilton would continue their unbeaten summer of Tests and they spent Friday afternoon training under cloudy skies in Hamilton. Most of the attention was on Shane Watson, who missed the first Test with a hip problem, and the fast bowlers Doug Bollinger, Ryan Harris and Mitchell Johnson. They were in the field for 13 hours across four days and two innings and have now had two days' rest.
"I've hardly seen them for a couple of days," Ponting said. "As fast bowlers normally do, they pack themselves away in their rooms for couple of days and don't do too much. We knew we had to ease up on them coming into this game hence none of the quicks came to training yesterday except Clint McKay. The other guys did all their gym and rehab work yesterday. They'll all be here today and I expect them to roll their arm over in some way, shape or form.
"They've pulled up pretty well to tell the truth. They're obviously exhausted but injury-wise they're good. If Watson comes back in we'll have a really balanced and rounded attack. Watson obviously got through training well yesterday, he did a lot of batting at the start then bowled off his long run after that which is really encouraging. I want to see how he pulls up today and see what he gets done at training today first before we make any announcement on the team there."
Whatever the makeup of the two sides, it will be a massive challenge for New Zealand to turn around their form in such a short space of time. Vettori said it was a learning experience in Wellington when his men failed to adapt as the conditions of the match changed around them.
"At 170 for 4 we thought things were going pretty well and knew what we were doing but they changed their games and became more aggressive and we didn't adapt to that," he said. "We've got to realise situations within the game a lot better than we did in Wellington, particularly with Michael Clarke we persevered with the same line of attack for too long. We're going to have to adapt and be a lot better."
Brydon Coverdale is a staff writer at Cricinfo