Basin Reserve curator Brett Sipthorpe believes he's produced a pitch to suit the New Zealand team this week, rating it his liveliest test strip in four years.
With New Zealand coach Mike Hesson making it clear he'd prefer assistance for his pacemen in the second test, starting on Wednesday, it seems he'll get his wish.
Sipthorpe likened the surface to the Pakistan test at the Basin in December 2009, the last time a pre-Christmas test was played there. Then, New Zealand sent Pakistan in to bat and dismissed them for 264, before being bowled out for 99 themselves as the tourists completed a 141-run win.
"This one will be quite similar to 2009. Early season you've got great grass coverage to work with and your moistures are good," Sipthorpe said.
"It's very hard but it's still got plenty of grass on it. Mike [Hesson] will probably be happy when he sees a green tinge to it."
The past three tests at the Basin produced draws against Pakistan (2011), South Africa (2012) and England in March. The latter strip, the same to be used this week, was sluggish but Sipthorpe said the block was tired late in the season and didn't have much grass left.
New Zealand need a few things to fall their way after they had match point in Dunedin when the rain came, a tantalising 33 runs short of their target of 112. The draw extended their winless streak to 10 tests, where they've played excellent cricket in patches but frustratingly can't close matches out.
Their pace attack is their biggest area of advantage over West Indies, and Hesson hoped they would get the best opportunity.
"I saw a picture of the wicket a couple of days ago and it looks like it might have a bit in it. If there is, then we're quite happy with that."
What shape the New Zealand bowlers will be in provides the big question now after their Dunedin marathon. They bowled 224 overs at the tourists without a break, with Trent Boult (53 overs), Tim Southee (45) and Neil Wagner (43) shouldering a heavy burden with just three days to rest before game two.
Captain Brendon McCullum said their workloads were a concern with a short turnaround but he stood by his decision to invite West Indies to bat again as they trailed by 396.
"Do I doubt the decision to enforce? Absolutely not, it was the right decision at the right time," McCullum said.
Hesson confirmed an unchanged squad of 13, with batsman Kane Williamson almost certain to return after scoring a century for Bay of Plenty against Counties in a Hawke Cup game on Saturday. He was scratched from Dunedin with concerns around his fractured left thumb, but Hesson expected he'd be "good to go" with protection on the thumb.
New Zealand may be tempted to include seamer Doug Bracewell to ease the bowling burden and provide an into the wind option, if the pitch looks seamer-friendly. That could mean legspinner Ish Sodhi misses out, with Williamson providing some spin.
The coach insisted they were on the right track, despite the frustrations of Dunedin, where they dropped four catches in the second innings then left themselves in the hands of the weather with a jittery runchase.
"We're getting ourselves in position to win tests and I think the team's starting to turn a corner in terms of our method and how we play," Hesson said.
"Sure we'd love the wins in the column but you've got to learn to draw first and put yourself in positions to win. With 20 more minutes of cricket we would have had a test win."
- © Fairfax NZ News
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