1 Nov 2015

Tricky Test for Australia in transition

6:27 pm on 1 November 2015

A resurgent New Zealand have high hopes of upsetting Australia in the three-match series, capped by Test cricket's first day-night clash.

New Zealand have not won a Test series on Australian soil since 1985/86, when a marauding Richard Hadlee was in his pomp, but Brendon McCullum's team may have their best chance to break the drought against vulnerable opponents in the throes of transition.

England's Ben Stokes is caught by New Zealand wicket keeper Luke Ronchi off the bowling of Kane Williamson (centre, facing) during the second Test New Zealand at Headingley, Leeds.

Kane Williamson (C) celebrates a wicket during the second Test against Englland at Headingley, Leeds, in June Photo: PHOTOSPORT

The series continues a calendar-long feast of sporting rivalry between the Antipodean nations, who face off in the Rugby World Cup title-decider in London on Sunday and have also clashed in rugby league and a netball world championship this year.

For McCullum's Black Caps, however, it offers the chance to extract a measure of revenge for their stinging World Cup final loss in March, when they were destroyed by the hosts in front of a baying Melbourne Cricket Ground crowd.

Then, New Zealand's run to the final had a fairytale quality, and their team were cast as a swashbuckling band of upstarts crashing a party for cricket's traditional powers.

McCullum's side have since established themselves as contenders in the red-ball game, splitting an enthralling Test series 1-1 on English pitches, where Australia were found wanting in a subsequent 3-2 Ashes defeat.

The Black Caps can expect little of the patronising tone that has welcomed weaker New Zealand teams of the past in Australia but more than the usual serving of outright hostility from local crowds.

Australian fans are unaccustomed to disappointment, having not witnessed a Test defeat on home pitches for three years and are likely to give McCullum's team a similarly spirited reception to that which greeted England during the 5-0 whitewash in 2013/14.

Australia may only dream of such dominance now, with new captain Steve Smith inheriting a side depleted by the retirements of former skipper and master tactician Michael Clarke, opening batsman Chris Rogers and all-rounder Shane Watson.

The former Australian cricketer Shane Watson.

The former Australian cricketer Shane Watson. Photo: PHOTOSPORT

Mitchell Marsh is a worthy candidate to carry the all-round duties, but New Zealand seamers Trent Boult and Tim Southee will be eager to tear into Australia's top order reinforcements Joe Burns and Usman Khawaja, who have been named for next week's opening Test in Brisbane and the second match in Perth.

Burns is the sole surprise, named as an opening batsman ahead of uncapped 22-year-old West Australian Cameron Bancroft.

Burns showed himself an able replacement for Rogers in scoring two half-centuries against India during the last home summer but Queensland captain Khawaja is on his third life after failing twice before to cement his place at the highest level.

Australia's bowling is more settled and will remain a serious handful on home pitches, even with veteran left-armer Mitchell Johnson having lost a yard of pace this season.

The build-up to the series has been overshadowed by controversy over the fitness of the pink ball to be used in the series-ending day-night Test at the Adelaide Oval.

Players have complained the ball, the result of years of painstaking development and testing, can be hard to see and fear it may not last the 80 overs required of the usual red ball.

Cricket Australia have insisted the ball is ready and dismissed suggestions the match could be rescheduled.

The pink balls which will be used in the inaugural day-night test in Adelaide.

The pink balls which will be used in the inaugural day-night test in Adelaide. Photo: Photosport

If successful, the game could prove a watershed for the format and encourage other nations to adopt a concept that promises bigger crowds and more broadcast revenues from lucrative prime-time scheduling.

What is certain is that the ball cannot be improved upon before Adelaide's opening day on November 27th.

No shock in Australian Test team

Black Caps coach Mike Hesson said he wasn't surprised by the Australian squad named for the first Test.

Shortly after Joe Burns and Usman Khawaja were ushered back into the Australia set-up ahead of the 'Gabba Test starting on Thursday, the Black Caps' three-day tour match at Blacktown International Sportspark was abandoned due to the dangerous nature of the pitch.

But there were no such nasties for the visitors in the Australian squad.

Australian cricketers after third Ashes Test loss Edgbaston 2015.

Australian cricketers after third Ashes Test loss Edgbaston 2015. Photo: PHOTOSPORT

"It is a very good squad, we have seen quite a few of the players there, " Hesson said. "It is an experienced side, the bowling attack is dangerous in these conditions."

Hesson said the Kiwis' main interest was who would take over as vice-captain David Warner's opening partner after the retirement of Rogers.

"I think when Shaun March batted against us at five down in Canberra that put him down the pecking order a bit.

"He is a quality player but there were no surprises."

- Reuters, AAP

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