New Zealand v India, 2nd Test, Wellington February 13, 2014

New Zealand's green gamble

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

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?

Abhishek Purohit is a sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Jaykumar on February 14, 2014, 10:02 GMT

    @Abhishek_Purohit: Any chance you gonna help me check the stocks mate? You got the nail on the head!

  • Dummy4 on February 14, 2014, 5:54 GMT

    @Nampally: somehow I get the feeling that umps only check for marginal no balls when a batsman is out.

  • Friend on February 14, 2014, 1:54 GMT

    To people deriding our bowling attack, a bowler of the class of Umesh doesn't get a look in. That would tell everyone how good our 1st choice bowlers are. Like everyone else, I had my doubts on Ishant but he has quashed them and how. Mark my words, in the next 1 year, India will be #1 in tests and ODIs.

  • Friend on February 14, 2014, 1:51 GMT

    @Tanvir Ahmad, lol at the "Pak is a top 3 team" comment. Pak were outclassed by Zimbabwe and you call them a top 3 team? India is clearly only behind SA in tests and equal #1 with Austraila in ODIs. We have had some poor results of late but remember they are all away from home. We thrashed Australia 4-0. Australia beat England 5-0 but that was a hopelessly poor English side. Let us see how they do in SA but India will paste any team, incl SA, at home right now and compete well against any team away. We almost beat SA in SA while you were thrashed. What do you mean "mediocre" attack? Did you see the way young Shami and Ishant are bowling? Along with the experienced Zaheer, we have a top bowling attack now. Do you even have one batsman of the class of Pujara or Kohli? And in ODIs, we won the Champions Trophy in England. What did Pakistan win? Right now, SA, India, and Oz are the top 3 teams, the next level has England, NZ, and Pakistan. SL and WI form the bottom tier.

  • Dan on February 13, 2014, 20:52 GMT

    Ross Taylor at home in Napier? Every other article I have read says he is at home in Hamilton

  • ANAND on February 13, 2014, 17:15 GMT

    Have a feeling that India are going to win at the Basin Reserve. Giving India a green pitch is no more a tactic to bring them down. Indian bowlers are very dangerous when they are given helpful track. And India have the batting (Pujara, Kohli, Rahane) to counter the conditions and the opposition. And India feeds on good bowling performances. If the bowlers do well, the batsmen get inspired and fight well too...

    Hope India take a great crack at NZ and win to end the tour!

  • jnjn on February 13, 2014, 15:19 GMT

    NZ is a very good team and also they are the one in form now.Ind will have to play at their best.pitch is green and this is how it should be when u play in NZ,Aus,SA, is good at the same time Ind too should produce an equal no of pitches green as well as an equal no that turn and spin.thats how cric will remain interestin. by the way match is bw Ind and NZ.cant fathom why other teams are so bothered when they are not even playin.u got some points 2 make go ahead and make but what is their team doin here??

  • Cricket on February 13, 2014, 15:04 GMT

    Although an Indian cricket fan, kudos to NZ for all round performance both in ODIs and Tests. Based on their play they truly don't deserve to be classified as last in ODIs or Tests. They have good battery of fast bowlers, sound technique batsman. Would love to see them challenge Australia and SA.

  • Dummy4 on February 13, 2014, 15:02 GMT

    Ambati Raydu - Manoj Tiwary W Saha - D.Karthik Ishant Sharma - Varun Aron The selection should be like above atleast for next tour. Raydu in test in a seaming conditions is a joke.

  • Dummy4 on February 13, 2014, 14:57 GMT

    Unlike the disciplined SA bowling attack. Southee, Bolt, Wagner these guys bowl lot of loose deliverers. I am really worried about the team selection. Dhoni should go with 4 pacers outside India. He cannot play Jadeja in NZ anymore. Ishant should sit for One match, Given the pace of Varon and Ishwar along with experience of Zaheer and swing of Shami India would easily restrict NZ below 250. This would ultimately ease the pressure of indian top order batsman. Dhoni think to play with same player everywhere, that is highly impossible in modern day cricket. Need to change players considering the pitch and team. This will be the future of test cricket. Every team knows if they attack the spinners then the opponents will be on back foot. Need to learn from Virat and Aussies.

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