Lucky to have a world-class bowling line-up - McCullum
Brendon McCullum, the New Zealand Test captain, believes New Zealand are building a world-class bowling attack and feels lucky to have that firepower at his disposal as he aims to captain the team to their first series victory over a top-eight Test nation in eight years.
During the last 12 months, Tim Southee and Trent Boult - a pairing that first operated together during New Zealand's victory over Australia in Hobart - have formed a strong new-ball attack supplemented mainly by Neil Wagner's hit-the-deck approach as the third seamer although Doug Bracewell has also floated around the scene.
The spin department has been more fluid as New Zealand try to find a substitute for Daniel Vettori, and after brief stints with Todd Astle, Jeetan Patel and Bruce Martin, New Zealand appear to have settled on legspinner Ish Sodhi, who is raw but gifted. The emergence of Corey Anderson as an allrounder at No. 6 has helped give McCullum the leeway to embrace Sodhi and also use his main two quicks as attacking options.
The bowlers have also enjoyed feeding off the pressure built by large first-innings totals; in four out of the five home Tests so far this season New Zealand have posted over 400.
"In the last few Tests at home the blueprint we've played to has been good," McCullum said. "We've been able to get plenty of runs, which has been great for our bowlers because I think we do have potentially a world-class bowling line-up."
Southee and Boult have dovetailed with each other during the year. Boult had his day to remember at the Basin Reserve last week with a haul of 10 for 80 while in May, albeit in defeat but not through the fault of the bowlers, Southee took 10* in the match against England at Lord's.
"Consistency is what we're always after and if we look at our bowlers over the last 12 months those guys have been very consistent and turned in excellent performances," McCullum said. "Trent got the rewards in the last game and Tim got the rewards at Lord's, but throughout the year, even in trying conditions, those guys continue to run in and present us with good opportunities."
"It's a lucky situation for me as captain and our batting group is we've got bowlers capable of taking 20 wickets, even on surfaces which don't necessarily suit them at times. I can't talk highly enough of those guys and I know they're determined to back that up and make sure we get a series win."
It is still early in New Zealand's international season. After this Test in Hamilton there is a five-match one-day series followed by two Twenty20s before the visit of India and their strong batting line-up. Although Boult is not a regular in one-day cricket (that may soon change), Southee is part of all formats for New Zealand so can expect a hefty workload in the weeks ahead.
The immediate priority, however, is to not let this chance of a series victory slip away. New Zealand are not ranked at No. 8 in Test cricket without reason; they do not win many matches, although their recent home form has been far better than their current rating.
The pitch, the first Test surface prepared by groundsman, Andy Brown, who has taken on the main role at Seddon Park after being the long-time No. 2, did not have same strong tinge of green as the previous two in the series, but McCullum thought there was still enough life in the grass to make the first day interesting. He also said overhead conditions can play as much as a part as what's under foot, so he'll be looking up as well as down should he win the toss.
"As the boys have alluded to I'm not winning too many tosses at the moment and probably not expecting to win it tomorrow either. Last year, the wickets didn't tend to start to turn later so bowling first was a pretty calculated decision because we knew it wasn't going to break up. This year it seems to be a dollar each way.
"The important thing in Hamilton is the overhead conditions and the mugginess which is around. If there is some cloud cover then the ball can swing quite a lot. We've seen in previous Tests here that a lot of wickets can fall in one session. We've got be mindful of that with bat and ball."
After all the effort they have put in to finally register a win at home, and be in the position to take a series, it is that prospect of one crazy session - however unlikely it seems - undoing the good work, that is a valuable warning for New Zealand to heed.
*10.20amGMT, December 18: Southee's haul at Lord's was amended
Andrew McGlashan is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo