Australia confirm playing XI for opening Test against NZ

Veteran batter Steve Smith will continue to partner Usman Khawaja at the top of Australia's batting order as skipper Pat Cummins

Wellington, Feb 28 (IANS) Veteran batter Steve Smith will continue to partner Usman Khawaja at the top of Australia’s batting order as skipper Pat Cummins confirmed his playing XI for the first Test against New Zealand, which commences at Basin Reserve on Thursday.

The line-up has the same bowling unit for the sixth consecutive Test stretching back to the home summer opener against Pakistan at Perth.

Smith has been deployed as an opener since the retirement of David Warner earlier this year and produced some mixed performances during Australia’s most recent Test series against the West Indies. After failing to perform on three occasions, Smith scored an unbeaten 91 in the second innings against the Caribbean side in Brisbane.

Australia skipper Pat Cummins confirmed it was a straightforward call to retain the same starting XI as the team’s most recent outing, a shock loss to West Indies at the Gabba, given all members of the touring party are fit and available.

“We’ve had a good run so same eleven as the Gabba,” Cummins said on Wednesday, as quoted by ESPNCricinfo. “It’s always nice to have a full contingent to pick from.”

The Kiwis currently lead the ICC World Test Championship standings, while Australia are third and will be keen to defeat their trans-Tasman rivals in the two-Test series and move into the box seat.

Australia Playing XI: Steve Smith, Usman Khawaja, Marnus Labuschagne, Cameron Green, Travis Head, Mitch Marsh, Alex Carey (wk), Pat Cummins (c), Mitch Starc, Nathan Lyon, Josh Hazlewood



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