Southee's axing leaves ex-Black Caps stunned

Kiwis make surprise selection decision for first Test against Proteas, opting for dual spin options over 200-wicket veteran

New Zealand have dropped a selection bombshell in Dunedin, leaving out 56-Test veteran Tim Southee for the first Test against South Africa.

The Kiwis opted to play off-spinner Jeetan Patel, allrounders Mitchell Santer and James Neesham and quicks Neil Wagner and Trent Boult instead of Southee, as the Proteas elected to bat first on the opening day of the three-Test series.

The decision appears to have more to do with the dry-looking University Oval pitch than Southee's recent form.

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The right-armer has been the player-of-the-match in two of the Black Caps’ last three Tests and has 28 wickets in his most recent five matches in the longest format.

He became just the fifth New Zealander to notch 200 Test wickets in January in their second Test victory against Bangladesh.

Southee’s omission has raised eyebrows among former Black Caps players; former NZ allrounder Scott Styris labelling it a “massive decision”, while Kyle Mills expressed his shock at the call.

It is the first time in seven years New Zealand have chosen two spinners (in Patel and Santner) for a home Test and the first time Southee has been dropped from the Test side since 2012.

The bold call appeared to pay early dividends, with the Proteas slumping to 3-22 early on day one after Neil Wagner struck twice in the opening session.

South Africa meanwhile have recalled Morne Morkel for his first Test in 14 months.

A back injury has kept the 1.96-metre Morkel away from the top level since January last year, when South Africa beat England at Centurion. He has played just two first-class matches since.

However, captain Faf du Plessis says the 32-year-old is fit enough to play five days in the cool of Dunedin, where temperatures are forecast to be in the mid-teens for most of the Test.

"He looks good. If he's not going to be able to play now we will never know if we don't take that chance," du Plessis said.

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"All the reports say he's 100 per cent fine ... he's bowled a lot of overs and he seems pretty confident so we just have to step out and see what he's got for us."

Morkel's experience from 71 Tests, which includes New Zealand conditions, meant he got the nod ahead of Duanne Olivier, who has one Test under his belt.

"I'm really excited to see what he's got. We've missed him," du Plessis said.

"He's fresh, it's a long time away from the game and it makes him really hungry to perform."

Morkel was also picked for his success against left-handers as there may be as many as five in the New Zealand side.

"He's terrible to face in the nets as a right-hander because you always feel like you are going to get hit in the ribs," du Plessis said.

"But obviously (it's) the opposite to lefties, it goes away."