Australia v New Zealand; Usman Khawaja says Steve Smith will fire

A “pretty green” Wellington wicket and New Zealand bowlers well equipped to exploit conditions in their favour could be Steve Smith’s greatest challenge in just his third Test as an opening batter.

But his veteran partner, Usman Khawaja, lazily slapped away any suggestions the 35-year-old couldn’t adapt declaring Smith was arguably the “best test cricketer of this generation” and he would “just score runs” when the two team’s clash on Thursday.

Smith hits the series off two underwhelming efforts in the T20s as he tried to prove his World Cup worth but in the first Test between the two nations in New Zealand since 2016, he returns to his red-ball element.

An unbeaten effort of 91 in Australia’s shock Test loss to the West Indies at the Gabba underlined Smith’s capacity to take to opening and Khawaja said he’s also conquer the potentially tougher conditions against the Black Caps.

“Opening is always a challenge,” Khawaja said in Wellington.

“You’re facing the best bowlers every single time with the new ball, sometimes the freshest wickets if you go out there in the first innings so the challenge is always there.

“There’s no easy runs to be had at the start. It’s what I miss about batting four and five sometimes.

“But it’s one of those things where I think Stephen Smith is as capable a batsman of anyone in the world. He’s right up there as the best test cricketer of this generation. So if anyone’s going to score runs at opening, it’s Steve Smith.

“So there’s no doubt whether you can bat him anywhere, he’ll score runs. It’s as simple as that.”

Khawaja said the wicket at The Basin Reserve looked green, as expected, but that looks could be deceiving.

“Sometimes the New Zealand wickets look worse than they play. I think it kind of depends on what’s the conditions above,” he said.

“When the sun comes out, even if you have a really green wicket, if you get through the new ball, it can be a pretty nice place to bat.

“But overcast conditions, green wicket, it can be quite tough. So I think a little bit will be dependent on weather.”

Khawaja labelled the past 12 months the biggest of his career in terms of workload, putting the mass of Tests and tours above any time spent playing multiple formats.

He said all the players were feeling the pinch, that’s why some, including fast bowling captain Pat Cummins, had opted out of recent white-ball series against the West Indies.

Despite the huge amount of playing and touring, however, 37-year-old Khawaja said he would “always find a way” to be fresh for each series, including this one.

“I think people underestimate how big this year’s been,” he said of the past 12 months.

“We had the Australian summer, went to India for about two months. Probably had a month off in Australia then to England for another two and a half or three months. We had about three weeks off and into the summer. And then into here.

“I mean, I got a pretty good decent break at some level coming up after this, but it’s been a big year. Honestly, it’s been one of the biggest, the biggest years and I’ve played three formats before for too and I felt like this year’s probably been as big as those other years probably because it’s been so much test cricket Test cricket which is definitely the most mentally draining.

“Physically I felt fine I’ll always be up for cricket no matter how tired and fatigue I am I’ll find a way so there’s no difference here I’m ready to go.”

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