Black Caps smell blood
Wellington - New Zealand's hopes of recording their first victory over Australia in almost 20 years have been boosted after a raft of injuries forced their trans-Tasman neighbours to pick a rookie trio of pace bowlers and an opener untried in Test cricket.
The first match in their two-Test series begins on Thursday at the 'Gabba with Ross Taylor's team brimming with confidence while Australia are dealing with the withdrawal of five players due to injuries sustained in South Africa.
Several of New Zealand's players have also showed some good form in their warm-up match against Australia 'A', smashing almost 900 runs in their two innings off an attack that includes pace bowlers Mitchell Starc, James Pattinson and Ben Cutting, who were all named in the first Test squad.
Taylor, Brendon McCullum and Jesse Ryder all blasted centuries in the match, while medium pace bowler Doug Bracewell underlined his burgeoning all-round abilities with a swashbuckling 73 not out.
Kane Williamson and Dean Brownlie also posted big scores in first class cricket in New Zealand before the team went to Australia, with Williamson patiently compiling 284 not out against Wellington and the 21-year-old now seems to be comfortable with the rhythm of international cricket.
The batting line-up is likely to feature the same six that played against Australia 'A' with the only real question mark over the number six position when former captain Daniel Vettori comes back into the team for the Test.
Vettori has developed into a competent batsman, averaging 38.92 with four centuries and 11 half-centuries in the past five years, compared to his career average of 30.27.
The 32-year-old could occupy the number six spot should New Zealand decide to play him as a spinner who can bat and go with a four-pace bowling battery on the traditionally fast 'Gabba pitch.
If they decide on the more balanced approach with Ryder taking the fourth seamer's role, though he has been told to scale back his bowling to lessen the chance of recurring injuries, then the uncapped Trent Boult is likely to miss out.
New Zealand's bowling attack remains an issue and they still lack an out and out strike weapon since Shane Bond was forced to retire after injuries curtailed his career.
Chris Martin will again lead the attack though medium-fast bowler Tim Southee could be the player to exploit the atmospheric conditions in Brisbane and extract swing against a batting line-up that still includes the vastly experienced Ricky Ponting, Michael Clarke, Michael Hussey and Brad Haddin.
New Zealand fans will also keenly follow the captaincy of Taylor in his first major test since he was appointed to replace Vettori in June, to see if he can inspire his side to their first Test win against Australia since 1993.
New Zealand have also not won across the Tasman since 1985, when they won their only series in Australia.