Green Basin Reserve pitch central to captains' planning
Fifteen wickets fell on the first day of the most recent Basin Reserve Test. The time before that it was 12. This time, who knows? But a surface that was more pitch-tinged green than green-tinged pitch, combined with the knowledge that the track generally flattens out and becomes easier for batting, meant New Zealand's captain Brendon McCullum had no hesitation in speaking on behalf of both teams on match eve.
"It's fair to say both teams will want to bowl if they win the toss," McCullum said.
By comparison, Steven Smith was sitting on the Basin's quaint picket fence when he declared that he would wait and see how the surface looked on Friday morning. "Traditionally the wickets here don't play quite as bad as they look," Smith said.
For that knowledge he has had to trust secondary sources, for no Australians in this current squad have played a Test in New Zealand; McCullum is about to play his 17th at the Basin Reserve alone. It is a venue with some fine recent memories for McCullum, who made 302 there in the second innings against India two years ago. There will be some finer memories if he helps New Zealand to a Trans-Tasman win there now.
And if indeed there is some swing on the first morning, and if indeed McCullum does win the toss and inserts Australia, it will be fascinating to see if Smith's men have learnt from their failures in England during last year's Ashes campaign. There, they were swung out for 136 at Edgbaston and 60 at Trent Bridge. Here there is no Stuart Broad or James Anderson to face, but there is a Trent Boult and a Tim Southee.
"The way they played in those seamer-friendly conditions is certainly something we can look at," McCullum said. "We've got a very good bowling line-up who will swing the ball and if the conditions do favour us, I'm confident we'll ask some tough questions.
"Our batting line-up is pretty similar to England; we've got some stroke-makers and some graft players. If you bat first, it's a matter of getting through those tough times and hanging in the game because it can change so late."
On match eve, Smith was the first to admit that his team had something to prove in swinging and seaming conditions; their mountains of runs during the home summer all came on flat pitches with little assistance for the bowlers. The Australians like to dominate when batting and use attack as a form of defence, but Smith acknowledged that sometimes defence was the best form of defence.
"You've got to play the ball under your eyes, you can't really push out in front of yourself," Smith said. "I think that's one of the most important things. Making sure you're leaving really well, being patient, and then if someone bowls a loose ball you've got to climb into it... Hopefully we've learnt from the way we played in England and we can adapt to whatever we're faced with out there.
"I think you do have to rein it back in at times. If someone is bowling well, whether it be on a flat wicket or a wicket that's doing a bit, you have to adapt to what's going on out there and rein it back in and wait for those loose balls. That's what Test cricket is all about. Batting time is key, and hopefully some of our batters can bat some long periods out here and get us some big scores like we had back home in the summer."
One man the Australians will almost certainly go after is the offspinner Mark Craig, who finished the recent Test series in Australia with the unflattering figures of 8 for 513, most of his wickets coming late in innings where Australia already had huge totals.
"I thought the boys played him really well back in Australia," Smith said. "I think the conditions are a little bit different here. The wicket has a little bit of grass on it, so it could potentially take a little bit of spin, I'm not too sure yet. I think if the wicket is nipping around a bit when the spinner comes on, I think he is certainly someone we can look to go after. But we'll just have to sum that up as the game goes on."
The lure for New Zealand in this series is the chance to lift the Trans-Tasman Trophy for the first time since 1993; Australia have not only the desire to keep their tight grip on the trophy, but also the added incentive of the No. 1 Test ranking. If they win the series they will jump to No. 1 for the first time since 2014.
"We want to be No. 1 in all formats of the game," Smith said. "That's our goal as a side. I guess you sort of have to put it in the back of your mind and focus on each game as it comes. I'm sure if we play well we'll have a lot of success on this tour. Obviously New Zealand are a very good side in these conditions so we're going to have to be at our best if we're going to beat them. But yeah, of course we'd love to be No. 1 at the end of this series."
Brydon Coverdale is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. @brydoncoverdale