WELLINGTON: New Zeal­and opening batsman Devon Conway has been ruled out of the first Test against Australia, captain Tim Southee said on Wednesday.

Conway will miss Thursday’s opener in Wellington after hurting his left thumb in a Twenty20 defeat to Australia on Friday in Auckland.

Experienced batsman Henry Nicholls has been recalled as cover for the two-Test series with Will Young moving up the order to open with Tom Latham, Southee told reporters.

“Injuries are part of cricket and present an opportunity for others,” Southee said.

Young scored an unbeaten 60 batting at number five in New Zealand’s second Test victory against South Africa earlier this month to help them a 2-0 series sweep.

It is not known if Conway will be fit for the second Test in Chr­istchurch beginning on March 8.

Southee said he would look at the weather and the pitch conditions before deciding whether to go with an all-seam attack in Wellington, meaning the 32-year-old Scott Kuggeleijn could be in line for a second Test cap.

Southee paid tribute to left-arm pace bowler Neil Wagner, 37, who announced his retirement on Tuesday after being told he would not be in the Test side against Australia.

“He’s a special guy to have in the dressing room, a man who made things happen,” said Southee of the South Africa-born Wagner, who took 260 wickets in 64 Tests. “You speak to any team-mate and they love him to bits for what he does on the field and as a person. He’ll be missed.” Australia captain Pat Cummins named the same team that lost the second Test at home to the West Indies in the drawn 1-1 series in January.

It means Steve Smith will again open the batting with Usman Khawaja.

“We’re sticking with the same eleven, no surprises,” Cummins told reporters.

New Zealand are seeking a first Test victory over the top-ranked Australia team since 2011.

On home soil against the Australians they have had even less joy, claiming their last Test win in 1993 and their last series victory in 1986 when Richard Hadlee was in his pomp.

For all of New Zealand’s achievements as a cricketing nation and their strong current roster, Tim Southee’s side have proved unable to shake themselves free from Australia’s psychological chokehold.

World champions Australia enjoyed a 3-0 sweep when they hosted the most recent Test series against New Zealand, four years ago, and will hope to round off one of the nation’s most successful seasons in cricket with victory.

Having won a maiden World Test Championship (WTC), retained the Ashes and claimed a sixth 50-over World Cup title in a glorious six months, Cummins’s side will aim to lock away the Trans-Tasman Trophy before a well-earned break from international duties.

The brevity of the two-Test series, the first between the nations in New Zealand since 2016, has prompted grumbling from fans in both nations.

Many would prefer a longer contest between the reigning WTC holders and the inaugural 2021 champions.

Australia, however, may be glad for the light load after slogging through five tests in the home summer following the World Cup triumph in India in November.

Australia’s first Test tour in eight years has generated plenty of buzz, though, with the Wellington opener long sold out.

Teams:

NEW ZEALAND (from): Tim Southee (capt), Will Young, Tom Latham, Kane Williamson, Rachin Ravindra, Daryl Mitchell, Tom Blundell, Glenn Phillips, Matt Henry, William O’Rourke, Scott Kuggeleijn, Mitchell Santner, Henry Nicholls.

AUSTRALIA: Steve Smith, Usman Khawaja, Marnus Labuschagne, Cameron Green, Travis Head, Mitch Marsh, Alex Carey, Pat Cummins (capt), Mitch Starc, Nathan Lyon, Josh Hazlewood.

Published in Dawn, February 29th, 2024

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