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On the surface, a seamer's paradise looks like the way to go against India, but with a few struggling batsmen in the team, a backfire cannot be ruled out
February 13, 2014
New Zealand have rolled the dice. They wanted a green pitch, and a green pitch they have got at the Basin Reserve. They have left out the legspinner, and are playing three specialist fast bowlers and two seam-bowling allrounders. Brendon McCullum is an aggressive captain. He wants to go for 2-0, and he thinks the best way to go after this Indian team is through an all-pace attack on a grassy surface with the ball expected to seam, and also swing on an open ground.
Tim Southee, Trent Boult and Neil Wagner have had a terrific home summer, having been denied only by rain and Darren Bravo in Dunedin in four Tests against West Indies and India. Jimmy Neesham and Corey Anderson are more than capable change bowlers. The ball swung around considerably, especially for Boult, in the previous Test at Basin Reserve, against West Indies, which lasted three days. McCullum says this pitch is greener and harder than the one for West Indies, and expects it to have pace, bounce and seam.
The young group of Indian batsmen could possibly face their toughest examination so far on overseas soil, going by the composition of the opposition attack and the conditions. You would be wary of going into a Test on such a surface as a visiting side that has been winless in six games on this tour. Then again, wouldn't you be wary if your batsmen have made 105 in their previous innings, like New Zealand did in Auckland? Ross Taylor made 41 out of those 105 in that madcap second innings at Eden Park. He is at home in Napier, expecting his second child, and New Zealand are fielding a debutant batsman instead at No. 4.
New Zealand's openers have had their spots in the side questioned even before this series began. Those questions became louder after the first Test. Peter Fulton made 13 and 5 at Eden Park, Hamish Rutherford 6 and a golden duck. Both could possibly be playing for their places at the Basin. Not exactly the frame of mind you want your openers to be in on such a pitch.
McCullum is coming off a game-changing double hundred in the first Test, but his style of batting will always involve risk against the moving ball. Same with Anderson's style. You can understand why New Zealand have a batsman as promising as Neesham coming down at No. 8, and not a fourth-specialist fast bowler.
Given McCullum's luck with the toss this tour - he has lost all six of them - he thinks New Zealand could well be batting next morning at the Basin. What gives him confidence is that New Zealand have been asked to do so three times this summer, twice by and once by India, and their first-innings scores have been 609, 441 and 503.
"It [toss] is likely to go against me," McCullum said. "Obviously we will look to have a bowl if we win the toss, but if we find ourselves batting, with Neesham at No. 8 as well, there is quite a bit of batting. We found ourselves in some precarious positions having to bat first so far in the summer, and we have come through those tests pretty well. Have found ourselves batting first on seamer-friendly wickets, something that we have had to overcome and we have done it really well so far.
"So getting big first-innings totals, and that allows us to obviously dictate the pace of the game and how we want to attack the opposition. It is going to be a challenge if we find ourselves batting first tomorrow. But we think we have had some success doing it and we should not be overawed by it, albeit it is going to be a tough proposition. We have one more big effort if we do find ourselves batting first on this wicket to make sure we get a competitive total in that first innings."
McCullum's confidence is not misplaced, but there is also no doubting that this is a double-edged sword for New Zealand. They are sitting pretty with a 1-0 lead in a two-Test contest, and in trying to go flat out for 2-0, they are also giving the Indians a chance to square the series.
Not that there is any chance of that happening if India bowl the way they did in the first innings at Eden Park. However, they went the other extreme in the second. MS Dhoni said he had not seen such a performance from his bowlers in the past three-four years. Zaheer Khan went even further, saying the last similar collective display he could recall was in 2002.
You would normally expect something in between. A normal showing from the Indian seam attack will be where they release the ball, pitch it with discipline and expect some help from the pitch. Normal could work at the Basin. Dhoni said after Auckland that he preferred green pitches for his quick bowlers away from home, even if that made it challenging for his batsmen. The dice has been rolled by the hosts. Which way will it turn?
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