Cricket: Ball mightier than bat in Basin test

By David Leggat

It's sweaty palm time for McCullum as toss against India may ultimately decide match.

The pitch - which hasn't been used for a test since 2008 - sits alongside that on which New Zealand beat the West Indies by an innings in three days before Christmas. Photo / Getty
The pitch - which hasn't been used for a test since 2008 - sits alongside that on which New Zealand beat the West Indies by an innings in three days before Christmas. Photo / Getty

Having spent Wednesday playing spot the pitch, New Zealand yesterday reinforced the expectation of how the final test of the summer, starting today, is expected to be played out.

If you like variety in a bowling attack, the Basin Reserve won't be the place to be.

New Zealand will be delivering an (almost) all seam bowling attack against India, as they go in search of a win to complete a remarkable summer of test success.

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Confirmation of Jimmy Neesham's test debut yesterday leaves the useful but far from specialist slow bowling of Kane Williamson as New Zealand's only recourse to spin.

The pitch - which hasn't been used for a test since the Bangladesh match of 2008 - sits alongside that on which New Zealand beat the West Indies by an innings in three days before Christmas.

It was a touch browner yesterday than 24 hours earlier. But we're talking about small degrees of difference.

Trent Boult took 10 wickets against the West Indies. He, along with seam bowling chums Tim Southee and Neil Wagner, supported by the lively Neesham and Corey Anderson, will have spent last night contemplating a strip which seems sure to offer significant seam movement, with pace and bounce.

The selection of Neesham over legspinner Ish Sodhi had become a "no brainer", according to captain Brendon McCullum.

India have classy seamers, who shot New Zealand out for 105 in their second innings of the 40-run win at Eden Park last weekend.

They won't be unhappy at what they've seen, and neither should India's captain MS Dhoni, judging by his comments after Eden Park.

"I personally always like - when we are playing outside the subcontinent - a greener wicket as it assists our fast bowlers and they can get the opposition out," Dhoni said.

"That means it will be testing for our batsmen but I always prefer it that way."

Translate that as having strong faith in his batting group to deliver.

There is one snag for McCullum. His test toss-winning record isn't flash. Therefore he knows New Zealand may finish up batting first today. That will be sweaty palm time.

"I think we've done really well so far to get big totals, which allows us to dictate the pace of the game," he said of this season.

"It is going to be a challenge if we find ourselves batting first. We shouldn't be overawed by it, although it'll be a tough proposition."

Openers Hamish Rutherford and Peter Fulton have been desperately short of recent runs. They won't have been fancying the prospect of batting yesterday, and with Ross Taylor missing the test due to the impending birth of a second child, there are reasons for concern at what might happen if Dhoni calls correctly at the toss.

Neesham will bat at No8 and has the talent to be seen as offering a touch of insurance lower down the order.

Tom Latham, in for Taylor, will be a straight swap at No4 and will get an immediate test of his batting skills.

Neesham's role with the ball will be, along with Anderson, offering hostility when the three frontliners, Boult, Southee and Wagner, are having spells.

Dhoni wasn't talking yesterday but opener Shikhar Dhawan, deputising for the boss, reckoned it was all about "keeping up the intensity" for India.

"We need to keep our basics strong in batting and bowling," he said.

Three successive away defeats beckon for the world's No2 test side.

Quality, sustained cricket from New Zealand holds the real prospect of a spectacular end to the Indian tour.

But anyone planning on being at the Basin on day five might need to rethink their plans.

- NZ Herald

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