McCullum backs New Zealand on final lap

According to the American actor and comedian WC Fields, horse sense is the thing a horse has which keeps it from betting on people.

Brendon McCullum certainly knows horses. He has a stake in many of the racing variety, inscribes the names of equine champions ('Black Caviar', among others) onto his bats, and even owns his own bloodstock company.

But if he has a keen sense for horses, perhaps McCullum does not possess much of Fields' horse sense, as he backed his team-mates to level the Trans-Tasman series against Australia.

If New Zealand's performance so far in this series is viewed as a two-horse flat race, they would be the jittery stallion baulking at the barriers, slow to jump at the starter's gun and floundering over the first few furlongs, before slowly finding it's customary stride. The major bend in the track was day two at the WACA, where the lead narrowed. Whether or not New Zealand are first past the finish post in Adelaide remains to be seen, but McCullum has seen a vast improvement in his team since the first day of the series at the Gabba.

"The way we started this Test series, we were a bit nervous and that can be for a number of reasons," McCullum said on the eve of the day-night Test. "It can be excitement a lot of the time . . . we don't often get the opportunity to play such big series and test ourselves against the best in a long period of time.

"We walked into this series as well-prepared as we thought we could be, but almost a little bit nervous and that affected the way we were able to execute our skills."

There are horses for courses and in Kane Williamson, McCullum possesses a true thoroughbred who can perform on any track from heavy to soft, and Ross Taylor has hit his stride at a pivotal moment. But as he studies the form guide, McCullum likes the look of his openers Martin Guptill and Tom Latham and is backing them to make an impact in Adelaide.

"Overall, the batters tend to get better as we get deeper into a season, which is kind of scary for guys like Kane [Williamson] and Ross [Taylor]. But I think overall our guys go in with probably a little bit more confidence than when we started the tour."

McCullum can be almost as aggressive in his captaincy as he is at the crease, but the foreign scenario of playing from day into night with an experimental ball provides an unfamiliar test. He doesn't know what he will do if he wins the toss but he is already contemplating the idea of controlling the tempo of the match when Australia are batting, a strategy that could arguably lead to a fine for slow over-rates.

"It's going to ask some different challenges of both Smithy and myself, and our cricketing nous," McCullum said. "That's pretty exciting.

"You've got to earn the right for any sort of tactics to be able to implement them, but in the day-night Test match there may be an opportunity where we think the conditions may be at their best for bowling at some stage, and it may be able to accelerate the Test match and put you in a stronger position if you're able to benefit from it. That's something we've got to definitely look at.

"Over-rates will be interesting as well, I think, heading into this Test match. It doesn't get dark until 8 o'clock so there's really only an hour, potentially an hour and a half, of the ball under full floodlights as well. Again, there's a tactical element that needs to be included in that."

While the hype surrounding the pink ball's behaviour at twilight and at night has overwhelmed the build up to this Test, McCullum doesn't believe it will be the dominant factor. Nor does he believe the Australians' greater experience in Sheffield Shield fixtures gives them a significant advantage.

"Australia have had more pink-ball work than what we have but, geez, does it really matter once you get underway?" McCullum asked. "Once you're underway the advantages or disadvantages are kind of irrelevant . . . we'll try to play the game similar to how we play other games.

"There's a lot been made that it's almost unplayable during those times, but it's just a little bit more challenging during that stage. It doesn't mean you can't get runs, or survive, and ensure you're there to bat the next day when conditions will be easier.

"It is a quirk of this Test match, but there's some good players on show who I'm sure can negotiate those challenges."

McCullum admits his own form with the bat hasn't generally been to his usual high standard during this series but he hopes one symbolic change will be prophetic. He won't saddle up 'Black Caviar' for this Test. That bat, named after the undefeated Australian thoroughbred, was broken by a searing Mitchell Starc yorker at the WACA.

Instead, he will mark the name 'Sacred Falls' onto his blade, providing a clue as to how he's likely to approach his batting. "He ['Sacred Falls'] is going ok," McCullum joked. "He needs a little bit more work. He's got to fly out of the gates a little bit quicker than what 'Black Caviar' was able to last go.

The New Zealand bay stallion has had success over a range of distances and on a variety of surfaces. McCullum hopes, on the grassy Adelaide track, he's backed a winning horse.