Tricky decisions face New Zealand selectors
Brendon McCullum believes he has players who are now confident enough to compare themselves with the best in the world and is eager for what should be another raise in standards from the visit of India.
Top of the pile in the captain's estimation was Ross Taylor, who scored 495 runs in the series against West Indies, followed by his new-ball pairing of Tim Southee and Trent Boult. McCullum has seen a shift in his players' attitudes during the year as they have begun to find some competitiveness in their Test cricket.
"It's early days, but we have some guys who are hungry to perform on the world stage and match themselves up against the best players rather than just being the best in New Zealand," McCullum said. "If Ross was to retire now he'd go down as one of our all-time greats - and I said we should enjoy the ability to watch a guy like that who will go down as one of our greats. The other guys, give them time, but they have the makings."
New Zealand now find themselves in the position where some tough decisions will need to made over selection - but for reasons of pressure from domestic cricket, rather than under-performance in the current XI although one or two of the side will be looking over their shoulder.
The return of Jesse Ryder to the one-day side has posed the tricky question of how, if he proves ready, does he fit back into the Test team. The only feasible option appears to be that McCullum reverts to opening the batting in place of the struggling Peter Fulton and Ryder slots into the middle order. However, there are other batsmen pressing their case in the Plunket Shield, led by Aaron Redmond who played the first Test against West Indies and Tom Latham, the left hander, who made 241 not out this week.
"Any time there is pressure coming from below it's a healthy state for the game," McCullum said. "Those guys are performing nicely and banking some significant runs. I still believe the guys in this team are performing well. You have to look at the pieces of the jigsaw and how they fit into that as well."
Another senior figure who will come back into contention is Daniel Vettori. He is currently playing the Big Bash League for Brisbane Heat but the New Zealand management are keeping in close contact with him. McCullum, though, continued to heap praise on Ish Sodhi, the legspinner, despite his limited role in the Wellington and Hamilton Tests. It will be a good test of the selectors' nerve whether they stick with Sodhi against the high-powered India batting order.
"I'm rapt with Ish," McCullum said." I know he hasn't bowled a great deal but it's great for his development, to be part of a side that is playing good cricket, and when he has been called on, he's done an excellent job. The luxury of having the pace attack we've got allows us to have the type of bowler Ish is. I've got a tremendous amount of confidence in not only his ability but also his cricket awareness and his character as a person.
"We'll have to speak to Dan and see where he's at. I know he's managed to get a lot of cricket recently, which is great. I caught up with him the other day and he looks young, fresh, fit and healthy which is great because he's been fighting some tough physical battles over the last few years but he looked pretty sprightly. With a bit more cricket under his belt that confidence in his body will continue to come back and it's a question we'll have to ponder down the track."
Andrew McGlashan is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo