Cricket: Black Caps stick with bowl first plan

By David Leggat

Win the toss and bowl. Both New Zealand captain Brendon McCullum and coach Mike Hesson believe that strategy has much to commend it in home test matches and if given the chance expect it again at Eden Park this week.

McCullum has won both tosses in the ANZ international series against England; both times he's sent England in to bat.

The first occasion, at Dunedin, worked a treat as sloppy England were rolled for just 167 a fortnight ago. However the pitch died and England's second innings effort was light years ahead of the first in terms of commitment.

The second time, at the Basin Reserve last week, backfired. New Zealand's seamers were not as demanding as hoped, and England were 267 for two at stumps, leaving the hosts staring uphill for the remainder of the match.

Since April 2009, New Zealand have won the toss and fielded six times in home tests.

Five tests have been drawn and one lost, to Pakistan at Wellington in December that year. That doesn't suggest the underpinning of a winning philosophy.

However McCullum rates it "not too bad a strategy to play test cricket in New Zealand".

His argument is that pitches rarely break up, therefore it's better to try and make inroads with the ball on the first day when lateral movement may be on offer for the seamers.

Hesson would not call it a blanket policy to bowl first, but concurred with McCullum's thinking.

"The type of clay we use doesn't really deteriorate a heck of a lot," he said.

"If you want to take 20 wickets the first morning is generally where you get the most assistance.

"We were disappointed with the way we bowled on the first morning in Wellington. There wasn't a lot of movement but there was enough and we didn't quite get it right."

England captain Alastair Cook admitted he too would have bowled first in Wellington. His seamers may have done the trick for him, but it was probably a good toss for the lefthanded opener to lose.

Of the three test strips, Eden Park with its drop-in pitches, is likely to have the most pace and carry, although the expectation is that it will also offer good batting conditions.

"The pitches offer a wee bit (to bowlers)," Eden Park turf manager Mark Perham said.

"If you're willing to bend your back it does a bit with the new ball so hopefully we will see the game move on a bit."

McCullum broadly concurred.

"I'd expect a good cricket wicket where you've got to work hard for your wickets and if you commit yourself with the bat there's certainly some runs on offer," he said.

The potential bounce could play into the hands of England's tall quick Steven Finn, who was a handful in the ODI on the ground last month. McCullum remained confident New Zealand had the wherewithal to cope.

"Throughout this series and this summer we've been confronted with some bouncy conditions. Some we've dealt with okay, some we haven't.

"So we're going to have to come up with a strategy to overcome it and I'm confident the guys are trending in the right direction and know what they're going to be confronted with."

This is the first test in New Zealand's biggest city for seven years, due to New Zealand Cricket making a philosophical shift several years ago to smaller boutique-style grounds for the five-day game. Eden Park is back on a trial basis to see how the ground, with its postcard-size straight boundaries, works as a test venue.

New Zealand have won three of the last four tests on the ground, although the time gap makes that largely irrelevant.

England were beaten by 78 runs in 2002, which was followed by a nine-wicket win over South Africa in 2004; a nine-wicket loss to Australia a year later and a 27-run victory over the West Indies in 2006.

- NZ Herald

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