Adam Milne is set to be pitched into the biggest game of his career as New Zealand captain Brendon McCullum demands a pace assault to ruffle India's feathers in their cricket tour opener.
McCullum all but confirmed 21-year-old Milne, the only 150kmh-plus fast bowler in the country, would play today's first one-day international in Napier after two impressive Twenty20 spells against West Indies.
The red carpet may have been rolled out for New Zealand's royal cricketing visitors in Napier in recent days, but McCullum knows the best way to get a leg-up in the five-match series is to get India's classy batting lineup hopping around. Two key men, Shikhar Dhawan and Virat Kohli, haven't played tests or ODIs in New Zealand. "It would be nice to unleash a bit of pace in the opening game and be as aggressive and hostile as we can with ball in hand," McCullum said.
India are the top-ranked ODI nation to New Zealand's eighth, but if there are chinks in their armour it's on quicker pitches. In their most recent series in South Africa, a 2-0 defeat, they were skittled for 217 in Johannesburg and 146 in Durban by the hosts' four-pronged pace attack led by Dale Steyn.
New Zealand have no Steyn in their lineup but Milne at least provides some genuine pace we haven't seen since Shane Bond who's now the man marshalling the troops.
Which of the four pacemen miss out is the burning question. McCullum wasn't giving much away, but it seemed veteran Kyle Mills was on the thinnest ice. Allrounders Corey Anderson and Jimmy Neesham are probably duelling for the final spot in the 11.
The idea of Milne and another aggressive wicket-taker, Mitchell McClenaghan, sharing the new ball is an exciting one which also carries risks on an excellent batting pitch with short side boundaries.
Selection for the series would be horses for courses, meaning Milne might play in Napier and Auckland with the quickest pitches, but sit out Hamilton in Wellington where it's usually slower. Tim Southee and Mills were both new ball options too, and Milne could be used first change, McCullum said.
"There's room for all of them, it's just trying to get the right approach at the right ground. With both those guys ]Milne and McClenaghan] playing you're clearly going in with quite an aggressive bowling lineup. We're pretty comfortable with the seamers we've got, we've just got to be smart with the conditions we play them in."
On a fine day with a cool breeze whipping across McLean Park, McCullum wasn't surprised by curator Phil Stoyanoff's pitch.
"It looks good, a typical Napier fast and bouncy track and we're expecting pretty big scores."
In the past four ODIs here against top-eight nations, no one has topped 275 batting first, and the chasing team has won all four. Previously scores of 350 were the norm but Stoyanoff, a former fast bowler, has a rock hard surface to keep the quick bowlers interested.
Visiting captain MS Dhoni liked what he saw, too. Last time here in 2009, India racked up 273-4 off 38 overs and won a Duckworth-Lewis contest with ease.
"The wicket looks good, dry and hard. If you bowl in the right areas the bowlers will have something from the wicket but at the same time if the batsmen get set they'll love the pace and the bounce of this track."
India have some handy pacemen, too, with the experienced Ishant Sharma and new kid on the block Mohammed Shami, who bowls in the 140kmh bracket and gets good swing. He had the most success in South Africa with three wickets in each ODI.
India will probably persist with two frontline spinners, Ravi Ashwin and Ravindra Jadeja, both fine bowlers but unlikely to get the assistance they're used to.
New Zealand's batting lineup was either dominant or dormant against West Indies in the 2-2 series draw, with two poor displays in Auckland and Hamilton.
With Jesse Ryder setting a frantic pace at the top, then Kane Williamson and Ross Taylor to steady the ship before the big hitters arrive, New Zealand still have to find the right pace.
"It's always a balancing act. In Auckland we were a touch over-aggressive for the conditions. In Queenstown we saw what can happen when all the stars align. The performance in Nelson was a really good blueprint. We're a dangerous team with 15 overs to go and a couple of wickets down, but you can't waste those first 35 overs," McCullum said.
New Zealand (likely): Martin Guptill, Jesse Ryder, Kane Williamson, Ross Taylor, Brendon McCullum (captain), Corey Anderson, Luke Ronchi, Nathan McCullum, Tim Southee, Adam Milne, Mitchell McClenaghan.
India (likely): Rohit Sharma, Shikhar Dhawan, Virat Kohli, Suresh Raina, Ajinkya Rahane, MS Dhoni (captain), Ravindra Jadeja, Stuart Binny, Ravi Ashwin, Ishant Sharma, Mohammed Shami.
- Sunday Star Times
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