Fast bowler Tim Southee will lead New Zealand against the Prime Minister's XI in Canberra on Friday. Captain Brendon McCullum's preparation for the three-Test tour was interrupted by his having to travel to England last week to give testimony in the Chris Cairns trial, and while he has rejoined his team he will be rested from the first match of the tour.
New Zealand coach Mike Hesson on Wednesday confirmed that BJ Watling would also sit out of the match and Kane Williamson would likely be rested as well, leaving Southee to step up as captain. The 50-over pink-ball match against the Prime Minister's XI on Friday will be followed by a two-day match with a red ball against a Cricket Australia XI on Saturday and Sunday.
"It will be a good opportunity for him, part of his role in the leadership group is to take a little bit more responsibility," Hesson said of Southee. "I think he's looking forward to it."
McCullum is likely to take some part in the match against the CA XI, and Hesson said he was confident the captain would be well prepared for the first Test starting at the Gabba on November 5.
"He'll play a part, but Brendon has been away from training for a little while," Hesson said. "He's looking forward to getting back into that. We'll ease him back in, make sure he's ready to go by Brisbane ... We've known the timelines for a long time, so we've put plans in place and Brendon will be ready by Brisbane. He's very much on track."
The matches in Canberra will also provide New Zealand with a look at potential Test opponents including Cameron Bancroft, Joe Burns and Usman Khawaja. The changing nature of Australia's Test team after the retirements of Michael Clarke, Shane Watson, Chris Rogers, Ryan Harris and Brad Haddin give New Zealand hope of their first series win in Australia for 30 years.
"There's been some good New Zealand sides come over here in the past and I think it's shown how formidable Australia are in their own backyard," Hesson said. "1985 is a long time ago. A lot of us still remember that quite fondly. We've had the odd Test win, in 2011, but to win a series over here you know you have to play very well. We won't get too far ahead of ourselves."
It cannot have escaped the attention of the New Zealanders that Australia struggled against the swinging ball on this year's Ashes tour, as they had against Tim Southee, Trent Boult and Doug Bracewell in Hobart in 2011. Since then, Boult and Southee especially have continued to trouble batsmen with their ability to move the ball.
"Anyone in the world struggles against the swinging ball," Hesson said. "That's shown over the last few years, and Tim and Trent are pretty good exponents. I think if those two get it right and it does swing, they can put any side under pressure. Australia is no exception to that."
However, Australia's own swing weapon could be Mitchell Starc, who was Player of the Tournament in their successful World Cup campaign earlier in the year and has dominated the Matador Cup one-day series so far, with a remarkable 23 wickets at 7.47 from five games. Although the white ball has been his specialty in recent times, Starc has got the New Zealanders thinking ahead of the Tests.
"We've asked for some big, tall left-arm bowlers to bowl to us in the nets," Hesson said. "He's a high quality bowler, especially in white ball. In Test cricket he's obviously very good as well, but probably doesn't have quite the record that he has got with the white ball. The key thing with any bowler is to take them a bit deeper, and if the ball stops swinging it's a little bit easier. Plenty of hard work to go into that beforehand."
However, the third Test of the series will be played with neither the red ball nor the white ball, with the inaugural day-night Test to be contested in Adelaide with a pink ball. New Zealand will have a hit-out against the pink ball in the PM's XI game, having already worked with pink balls at a two-day training camp in Hamilton earlier this month.
"That removed an element of the unknown," Hesson said. "I think the guys enjoyed that. A one-day game with white clothing and pink ball will be a little bit of a novelty in itself, a nice way to start the tour."