Cricket: Selection says it all

By David Leggat

The thread of self belief growing within the New Zealand team showed itself with one sentence uttered by captain Brendon McCullum yesterday.

"Yeah, an unchanged team. We go in with the same XI, they performed really well for us in the last game and we hope they'll do the same job this time," McCullum said.

Down the years the pronouncement the day before a test of a specific XI from a New Zealand captain has been as rare as rain this summer.

Whether through caution, genuine uncertainty over the preferred bowling combination, or trying to keep the opposition guessing, New Zealand skippers aren't given to such unequivocation 24 hours out from the start of a test.

Put at least part of McCullum's decisiveness down to a feel-good factor. New Zealand took piles of heart out of their draw in the first test at Dunedin, a point reiterated by McCullum yesterday.

Well before this tour began, the firm contention was that while New Zealand would be highly competitive in the two short forms of the game, once it came to the ANZ international test series, the gulf in quality between the No 2 and No 8-ranked teams would stretch.

No wonder, then, New Zealand are backing themselves to, at least, be right in the contest over the next five days at the Basin Reserve.

"We gave ourselves a great opportunity [in Dunedin]. We dictated terms from day one and the progress we made in a short space of time from the South African lessons was encouraging," McCullum said.

"The challenge now is to back that up, and consistently. We've got the bowlers to take 20 wickets and put pressure on their batting lineup. If we execute well, we give ourselves a good opportunity."

Bowling first is his preference on a Basin Reserve pitch expected to be good for batting most of the time, McCullum's thinking that the first day is likely to offer seamers their best opportunity.

He acknowledged England's premier swing bowler Jimmy Anderson and Stuart Broad bowled well on the ground on the previous England tour five years ago, before asserting he'd seen New Zealand's leading seamer Tim Southee perform strongly on the ground too.

McCullum talked of the pitch having "a little bit of sting taken out of it", but New Zealand will expect more shorter-pitched bowling from, in particular, tall speedster Steven Finn and Broad as they seek to utilise the bouncier conditions.

Equally, Southee, Trent Boult and Neil Wagner represent New Zealand's best chance of chasing 20 wickets.

McCullum followed his team news with the insistence that bowling first is his probable course of action if he gets the choice at the toss today. He doesn't expect the pitch to break up to any degree, meaning day one and making early inroads will be crucial.

For what it's worth, New Zealand's last six test wins - in places as diverse as Bulawayo, Hobart and Colombo - have come when batting first.

The TAB doesn't rate New Zealand's chances, Dunedin notwithstanding.

It has England warm favourites at $1.67 to win, the draw at $2.80 and New Zealand at $7 to win a 15th test on the Basin, its most successful test venue.

New Zealand v England

Second test
Basin Reserve, from 10.30am today

New Zealand: Brendon McCullum (c), Peter Fulton, Hamish Rutherford, Kane Williamson, Ross Taylor, Dean Brownlie, BJ Watling, Tim Southee, Bruce Martin, Neil Wagner, Trent Boult.

England (probable): Alastair Cook (c), Nick Compton, Jonathan Trott, Kevin Pietersen, Ian Bell, Joe Root, Matt Prior, Stuart Broad, Steven Finn, James Anderson, Monty Panesar.

At the Toss

* New Zealand have got 38 of their 72 test victories bowling first.

* Eleven of New Zealand's 14 wins at the Basin Reserve have come when bowling first.

* Their last six test wins, however, going back to late 2009, have been achieved when batting first.

- NZ Herald

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