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New Zealand v Australia first Test preview: Pace options limited for Black Caps

New Zealand and Australia go toe-to-toe at the Basin Reserve in Wellington on Thursday morning as the first of the two-match Test series gets underway.

The Baggy Greens are set to be at full strength as they attempt to continue the dominance they enjoyed in the recent T20I series, but the Black Caps will have to cope without two of their recent bowling stalwarts - left-arm pace duo Trent Boult and Neil Wagner - who have both called time in the Test arena.

Add in the absence of seamer Scott Jamieson due to a long-term back problem and it is clear why Australia are hot fancies at 1.57 to win in Wellington and are 1.57 to secure a series victory, with the second Test taking place at the Hagley Oval in Christchurch.

·         When: From 9am (AEDT), Thursday 29th February
·         Where: Basin Reserve, Wellington
·         How to watch: FOX
·         Odds: New Zealand 4.33, Draw 5.00, Australia 1.57

Smith to continue at the top of the order

Australia have the luxury of having a full-strength squad to pick from and Steve Smith will continue to open the batting alongside Usman Khawaja, with all-rounder Cameron Green returning to slide into place at number four in the order.

Marnus Labuschagne takes the first drop slot and is keen to make up for a poor home series against West Indies in which he made 19 runs across four innings.

He averages a massive 91.50 in three previous Test appearances against the Kiwis, having excelled in the home series of 2019/20 by making scores of 143, 58, 63, 19, 215 and 59.

Labuschagne is 5.00 to be Top Match Batter at Basin Reserve, on a pitch which is expected to give plenty of assistance to the seam bowlers on both sides.

Left-hander Travis Head, who signed off against the Windies with a King Pair at the Gabba, is 8.00 in the same market.

On the bowling front, the top-class pace trio of skipper Pat Cummins, Mitchell Starc and Josh Hazlewood look set to shine, although the back-up options of Michael Naser and Scott Boland could be tempting given the likely pitch conditions.

One thing is certain, the Baggy Greens will be full of confidence in knowing that they have won nine of the ten Tests they have played in New Zealand this century, although the Black Caps did claim a victory in Hobart back in 2011.

Wagner departs the international scene

While it is very much a caser of same old for Australia, the same cannot be said for the hosts, with veteran left-arm fast bowler Neil Wagner having announced his international retirement on the eve of the first Test.

He made that decision after being told that he would not be a part of the team for this series, with William O'Rourke preferred after recording debut match figures of 9-93 in a seven-wicket win over South Africa in Hamilton.

O'Rourke joins captain Tim Southee and Matt Henry - who has recovered from a hip problem - in the New Zealand seam attack, with spin provided by left-arm all-rounders Mitch Santner and Rachin Ravindra.

Ravindra, like Henry, has been declared ft after a knee issue, while Daryl Mitchell is back in the fold after being troubled by a foot injury.

Star batter Kane Williamson is available after paternity leave, while Will Young stands by to replace Devon Conway if the latter is ruled out due to a thumb injury.

Williamson recently made three centuries in four innings against the Proteas and averages an outstanding 69.70 in 47 previous Tests he has played on home soil, although his average against Australia drops down to 41.11.

However, is record at Basin Reserve is something to behold, as he has made five centuries - two of which were doubles - and five 50s in 24 Test innings at the venue and averages a massive 74.40 on this ground.

Williamson is 5.50 to be Top Match Batter and 7.00 to be Top 1st Innings Batter from either side.

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