'All-seam attack a no-brainer' - McCullum
Brendon McCullum has said picking an all-seam attack for the second Test against India was a "no-brainer" on a grassy pitch that he expects will be quick and bouncy. McCullum said New Zealand wanted to make the series scoreline 2-0, and in spite of the forced absence of Ross Taylor, he had faith in the two Test debutants in the XI to help the side achieve its goal.
"Always play to win, you guys know me well enough for that," McCullum said. "That's how we will look to try and operate. Hence the selections we have picked are trying to play to our strengths and we think [with] the pace and the bounce that we will be able to generate from this wicket, the selection became a bit of a no-brainer for us."
Seam allrounder Jimmy Neesham is one of the two debutants, replacing the legspinner Ish Sodhi, who was hit for 78 runs in 15 overs by the Indians in the second innings of the first Test. McCullum said Sodhi's exclusion was solely due to the conditions and the opposition's comfort with spin.
"I guess it's a horses-for-courses approach against the team we are playing," he said. "If we were playing against South Africa or Australia, then we would have looked at playing the spinner but just [look at] how good these guys are against spin. It is not an indictment on Ish at all. We thought this is our strongest attacking option that we could take in this Test match. Ish will, barring injuries, certainly start for us when we get to the West Indies for the Test series."
At No. 8, Neesham will be the last leg of a long batting line-up, but McCullum said the allrounder's inclusion had more to do with his skills with the ball.
"We think he has ability to bowl some pretty good gas and quite attacking style of bowler as well. We see him in that sort of fourth-fifth seamer role so the combination between Neesham and (Corey) Anderson as that extra seamer. It's pretty strong for us. Neesham's batting is a bit of a bonus when it comes to that.
"He certainly comes into the frame because of his ability to bowl pretty heavy as well."
New Zealand had the option of going in with a fourth specialist fast bowler instead of Neesham. While McCullum acknowledged that could have been a "gamble" he could have taken, he believed his two allrounders could generate enough bite to test the opposition.
"There is always that gamble, I guess. We sort of think that the overs that those guys will have to bowl will be as hostile as they possibly can and still allow the breaks that we need for our two spearheads in Tim (Southee) and Trent (Boult)," he said. "Knowing that when they are not bowling, then there is still some hostility at the crease [batting] with those guys."
While McCullum will have five seam options, the batting has been weakened by Taylor's unavailability as he awaits the birth of his second child. Taylor has been in roaring form this summer, and while McCullum admitted it was hard for the side not to have their senior batsman, he was confident the other debutant Tom Latham would be able to step in at No. 4.
"We have had our hand forced a little bit with Ross's situation but Tom's earned that right to be that next batter through some performances in domestic cricket," he said. "We are not too concerned about that. Whilst it is a big loss to lose a guy like Ross and in the form that he is in, we are confident that Tom will do a good job for us and the Neesham situation was more to play to our strengths.
"It's never probably ideal unleashing two debutants at the same time but they have both had a fair amount of international cricket to get accustomed to and I know that they both are very excited about the opportunity they have got in this Test match."
Adding to the void created by Taylor's absence is the continued disappointing run of openers Hamish Rutherford and Peter Fulton. McCullum admitted both batsmen needed to fire, but backed them to come good, adding that disturbing the combination at this point was too much to ask for, given the side was already without Taylor.
Abhishek Purohit is a sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo