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DUNEDIN, New Zealand (Reuters) - Persistent rain forced the abandonment of the first day's play of the first cricket test between New Zealand and England at Dunedin's University Oval on Wednesday.
New Zealand captain Brendon McCullum had won the toss and asked England to bat in overcast conditions and gloomy light but umpires Asad Rauf and Paul Reiffel took a reading before play was due to start at 10:30 (21:30 p.m. British time) and delayed the start.
Strong southerly winds then brought driving rain over the ground with spectators scrambling for cover or seeking shelter outside the small ground adjacent to the city's university.
Ground staff had said they would need two hours to prepare the ground for play once it stopped raining but intermittent showers forced the umpires to abandon the day's play at about 16:15.
New Zealand's Metservice has forecast fine weather for Thursday but showers are expected over the remaining three days.
Left arm spinner Bruce Martin will make his New Zealand debut at the age of 32 when play eventually starts after McCullum opted to go with three frontline pace bowlers.
Opening batsman Hamish Rutherford will also make his debut and join Peter Fulton at the top of the order.
Ian Butler, who had been brought in for the injured Doug Bracewell, is the 12th man.
Nick Compton holds on to his position as opening batsman with Alastair Cook, dashing media speculation that Joe Root might join the England captain at the top of the order.
Root will also play but is expected to bat at six.
England earlier suffered a blow with offspinner Graeme Swann ruled out of the test series due to a lingering elbow injury that flared up in the tourists' match against the New Zealand XI in Queenstown last week.
The 33-year-old, widely considered the best offspinner in world cricket, will have surgery on his right elbow next week in the United States with the hope of being fit for England's hectic schedule later in the year.
Left arm spinner Monty Panesar replaced Swann in the lineup.
Alastair Cook's team will host New Zealand in May and June then play the one-day Champions Trophy before they face back-to-back Ashes series against Australia.
Editing by Ian Ransom