Pitch the focus as New Zealand aim to change Test fortunes
New Zealand have the perfect chance to lift their sagging Test cricket fortunes when they face Bangladesh at the start of a two-Test series in Dunedin on Friday. Fresh from a 3-0 walloping of the visitors in the one-day series, the home side are looking to find their touch in the longer version of the game.
While ranked number three in the world in one-day internationals, New Zealand languish at number seven in the Test rankings. "Two wins against Bangladesh are pretty precious to us," Daniel Vettori said. "We haven't played a lot of test cricket and when we have we haven't been going too well."
In the last year, their only Test opponents have been South Africa, who cantered to two massive victories in a short series in November. New Zealand need to regain some confidence before England arrive next month for a tour which includes three Tests.
New Zealand and Bangladesh have played four Tests and New Zealand have won all of them by more than an innings. Bangladesh have played a total of 49 Tests, winning once against Zimbabwe and racking up 43 losses and five draws.
Bangladesh's coach Jamie Siddons, was not making any outlandish claims for his team ahead of the Test. "We've got a lot of young boys that are going to have a lot of bad days before they have some good ones," he said. "How will we react? We're capable of anything. We could respond really well, or we could capitulate -- that's how good we are."
Mohammad Ashraful, Bangladesh's captain, was looking ahead to bettering the country's Test record. ""My New Year's resolution revolves around seeing the team better its Test record and become more competitive in this form of the game," Ashraful was quoted as saying in the Tigercricket.com. "It's fair to admit that we haven't improved as expected in Tests in the last eight years."
For New Zealand, batsmen Scott Styris, Jamie How, and Ross Taylor and spinner Jeetan Patel have all been left out after playing in the one-day series. Matthew Bell, who has scored heavily in domestic first class cricket, has been recalled after a six-year absence and will open the batting with Craig Cumming.
Matthew Sinclair, called in as cover during the South Africa tour, has been retained for the Bangladesh series. Experienced campaigner Styris paid the price for scoring a total of 59 runs in four innings against South Africa. Dunedin's University Oval will be hosting its first ever Test and the quality of the pitch could become a focus of controversy.
A recent first class match ended within two days after seamers exploited an unusually damp and green surface, although authorities have been working hard to bring it up to Test standard. New Zealand will take a four prong pace attack into the match, with a decision between Michael Mason and Iain O'Brien still to be made.
"Today [in the practice session] it was more a case of getting used to the wicket and playing out the deliveries," Shahriar Nafees, Bangladesh's opening batsman, said. "The ball tends to stop a little and doesn't come on to the bat at pace. Playing in the V is probably a better option on this wicket."
Otago Cricket chief executive Ross Dykes expressed confidence that the pitch would hold up for some good cricket. "It's looking good," he told Stuff.co.nz. "Apart from a bit of rain today which is a bit of a nuisance, everything seems to be on target. A lot of focus went on it, a lot of it was slightly exaggerated, but there certainly has been significant effort put into making sure all that can be done has been done. We are confident we have a satisfactory pitch. [We have been] ensuring the moisture content is maintained at the right level and the density of the grass is as it should be, but these things are governed by the weather."
Vettori said he would insert the opponents in if he won the toss. "There will probably be a little bit in it early and then it'll flatten out. It was almost a blessing in disguise for the ground. It put so much spotlight on it they had to put a lot of effort into getting it right," he said. The spikes go in pretty easily so that's a good sign. There will be a little bit of moisture in it early on before it turns into a road."
Bangladesh are attempting to strengthen their lineup by flying in top order batsmen Habibul Bashar and Nafees and spinner Enamul Haque following the one-dayers. The first Test starts on January 4.
New Zealand: Daniel Vettori (capt), Craig Cumming, Matthew Bell, Peter Fulton, Mathew Sinclair, Jacob Oram, Brendon McCullum (wk), Kyle Mills, Michael Mason, Iain O'Brien, Chris Martin (12th man to be named).
Bangladesh: Mohammad Ashraful (capt), Tamim Iqbal, Zunaed Siddique, Shariah Nafees, Habibul Bashar, Aftab Ahmed, Shakib Al Hasan, Rajin Saleh, Mushfiq Rahim, Mashrafe Mortaza (vcapt), Abdur Razzak, Farhad Reza, Enamul Haque, Shahadat Hossain, Sajidul Islam.