New Zealand 'leaning' towards four-pacer attack - McCullum
Brendon McCullum is considering playing four fast bowlers in the ODI series opener against India in Napier. The New Zealand captain expects the McLean Park pitch to be fast and bouncy, and said he wanted to "unleash a bit of pace" early at the visitors, who were dismissed for 217 and 146 in Johannesburg and Durban by Dale Steyn and Co recently.
"I guess we are leaning towards it [playing four quicks] at this stage," McCullum said. "Obviously we'll see how everyone pulls up through training as well, but I think it will be quite nice to unleash a bit of pace in this opening game and then try and be aggressive and as hostile as we can with ball in hand."
When asked if New Zealand were keen to "get in the face" of the Indians, McCullum was quick to clarify that he was keen to restrict the aggression to only with the ball. "We are incredibly respectful of how good this team is that we are coming up against. India have obviously performed well for a long period of time and they have got an outstanding batting line-up in particular. We know it's a huge challenge for us.
"The good thing from our point of view is we are playing at home and in conditions that we are familiar with and we think we are starting to play some decent cricket as well as a side. There certainly is no directive in terms of trying to take these guys on from a verbal point of view. It's more about making sure we play good cricket and try and expose some weaknesses, if there are any, in their batting line-up, and obviously try and build some momentum early in this series - five games in 12 days, if you can get early momentum, it is certainly going to help."
When asked about India's problems against Steyn, McCullum, while acknowledging the fast bowler's prowess, pointed out that it hadn't been all gloom for the visitors in South Africa. "Dale Steyn is a world-class bowler and has been for a number of years. He has been successful against pretty much everyone in world cricket. We haven't got the bowlers at that level yet - who knows what will happen in a couple of years if we keep developing them - but at this stage, we are still learning a little bit about some of our bowlers.
"In terms of the Indians and how they responded in South Africa, I think they still played pretty good cricket at times. They are not ranked where they are for no reason. They are obviously successful and excellent players. We are very respectful of them. It doesn't mean we don't think we have not got areas where we can attack them but we are very respectful of how good these guys are and know that for us to win this series, we have to play our best cricket of the summer."
New Zealand have included young fast bowler Adam Milne in the squad, and while he's still developing, he can generate extreme pace, upwards of 150 kph. McCullum said New Zealand would go for Milne on quicker surfaces, and would not mind playing him alongside the aggressive Mitchell McClenaghan, despite the possibility of conceding additional runs in the quest for pace and wickets.
"If we get a fast wicket, Milne will play. Still mindful of the fact that he is young in terms of the experience that he has got and obviously bowling at the pace at which he does as well, that can bring about injuries. We have to make sure we use him when the conditions suit him best.
"We have got other options as well. We have got [Kyle] Mills and [Tim] Southee who are more than capable of bowling with the new ball and obviously Milne can bounce between the new ball and first change. We just have to work out the right balance and play to the strengths of those guys.
"I think there is room for all of them. It is all about trying to get the right approach for the right ground. I think with both of those guys [Milne and McClenaghan] playing, you are clearly going in with an aggressive bowling line-up. So you just got to be aware of that in terms of the plans you are setting and how you are going to look to try and put them into the jigsaw in terms of the 50 overs."
While all four fast bowlers could play in Napier, it is not likely to become a trend for the rest of the series, as McCullum was also mindful of managing their workloads. "It is difficult but I guess the realisation also is that they can't all play every game. We have already played a lot of cricket this summer and we have got a lot more to come. We have just got to be mindful of making sure that the pace attack we do put out is fit and ready to go. That will see all four of them get some opportunities during the series."
In contrast to New Zealand's pace, India usually prefer playing two spinners in Ravindra Jadeja and R Ashwin in ODIs. McCullum was hopeful of targetting India's slow bowlers. "They are accustomed to playing on slower, turning tracks and I am hopeful they are not going to get that over here over the next month or so. But they rely quite a lot on their spinners and that's an area we might be able to look to expose them, though they are also very good bowlers. We have got to feel it out as the series develops and make sure that we are at the top of our game."
Abhishek Purohit is a sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo