More grass and pace awaits India
Tim Southee was asked whether he could tell the pitch from the outfield at the Basin Reserve. He smiled, saying it was "tough" to do so at the moment. You had to squint to make out the pitch from the boundary. It was the slightly thinner grass rectangle amid all the green. Much before the start of the India tour, New Zealand coach Mike Hesson had demanded green, seaming pitches for the visitors.
The pitch in Auckland for the first Test had some grass cover, but it eased out considerably after only one session. There is still some time to go for the start of the second and final Test, and there is no saying whether all the grass on it will stay, but this one is likely to do a lot more than the drop-in surface at Eden Park.
There has been some rain in Wellington past few days, and pitch preparation has not been ideal. It also means there will be at least some moisture underneath that grass going into the Test, even though days are warm and long at this time of the year. The last Test at the Basin a couple of months ago lasted three days, as West Indies were shot out for 193 and 175 to lose by an innings.
Brett Sipthorpe, the curator, said he was targeting a similar pitch for India. "It's had good pace and bounce in it this summer and basically we're aiming for exactly what we had for the West Indies one," Sipthorpe told local media. "That was nice and bouncy and had a little bit of nip around, which suits the seamers."
The pitch didn't have a massive role to play in West Indies' demolition, though. They won the toss, sent New Zealand to bat and found that the surface wasn't going to do everything for them. They could not bowl fuller lengths consistently, they could not hold their catches, and Ross Taylor's century lifted New Zealand to 441. When their turn came, the West Indies batsmen kept playing strokes and kept succumbing, especially to Trent Boult's considerable inswing.
Boult picked up ten wickets in that Test, and swing will be another factor to contend with in Wellington. The famed wind is always a challenge, although Southee said when there was too much of it, swing ceased to be as much of a factor. "I think when it is too windy or gusty, it is hard to swing," Southee said. "When it is a nice still day, it tends to swing a little bit more, but those are few and far between. It is one of those grounds where the wind is a massive factor and you have to get used to it quickly."
MS Dhoni also mentioned the wind aspect after the Auckland Test, saying it would lead to a "few exciting things", although his assessment of it assisting swing was at odds with Southee's. "It is a very windy place, which means the fast bowlers may get a bit of swing," Dhoni said. "Faster outfield so the scoring can be quite easy if you are hitting with the wind."
When India played a Test here on their 2009 trip, which they would have likely won but for rain on the final day, the pitch was not as green. When asked about the Wellington pitch this time after the Auckland Test, Dhoni said he preferred greener surfaces, which his fast bowlers could utilise.
"I always complain when we get wickets that are on the drier side and don't assist the fast bowlers too much," Dhoni said. "That is where we struggle to some extent. I personally always like when we are playing outside the subcontinent, a greener wicket as it assists our fast bowlers and they can get the opposition out which means it will be testing for our batsmen but I always prefer it that way."
At the moment, Dhoni's wishes also seem to have been answered along with Hesson's. The pitch is abundantly green two days before the Test, but how much of the grass will stay? The curator seemed to suggest most of it would. "It just depends on what the weather brings us. If we have to take a little more off we will, but we don't want to lose our pace and grass cover is pace," Sipthorpe said. "We'll do everything we can to try to keep as much grass on as we possibly can."
Abhishek Purohit is a sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo