Slow Hamilton track and weather to suit India
There will be anxious glances to the skies at Seddon Park today but New Zealand's cricketers need to keep their eyes firmly fixed on the ball against a resurgent India.
Rain is forecast to sweep across Hamilton around the time of the innings break tonight, meaning the prospect of some Duckworth-Lewis intervention in the second one-day international.
Adjusted targets aside, New Zealand know this is the ideal venue for India to bounce back from their 24-run defeat in Napier and keep the five-match series on a knife edge.
A new, dry looking pitch, in between December's test strip and the one used for Saturday's domestic Twenty20 final, was unveiled yesterday amid the muggy showers. There was little to suggest it would play differently to the other two, which were slow and offered turn and hope for the spinners.
"We know India will be better for the hitout and the Hamilton wicket is traditionally the slowest we have. I'm sure that will be more to their liking," New Zealand batsman Ross Taylor said.
Surfaces for three of the next four ODIs (two in Hamilton and one at Wellington's Westpac Stadium) are sluggish and should play into India's hands.
That means New Zealand need to maintain their aggression, play smart, remain razor sharp in the field and not divert from the batting plan that served them so well in Napier.
The forecast might create some uncertainty at the toss, but ideally this is a bat first wicket as West Indies showed so brutally on January 8 when they plundered 363-4, a record total at the ground.
The Napier blueprint was ideal as Taylor and Kane Williamson consolidated after the early loss of the openers, played straight and had New Zealand poised at 161-3 at 35 overs. Enter Brendon McCullum, Corey Anderson and Luke Ronchi to slug the ball over the pickets, which in Hamilton are barely over 60m away, with a short boundary on one side.
Taylor's batting bears little resemblance to a few years back when he was striking at over 100 and unleashing his favourite slog-sweep at every opportunity.
Having batted over 20 hours in the West Indies tests, he's now required to play similarly in the ODIs. Taylor embraced the role he called "doing the donkey work for the hitters", but hoped to still get the chance to hit out.
"I hope to do the hard work and express myself afterwards as well, and not get out in the power play like in Napier. I'm happy with that role ... it's the role I've done for a year and a half now, especially with the new rules [with one fewer boundary rider out]. You need wickets in hand in laying that platform."
India's spinners Ravi Ashwin and Ravindra Jadeja will be harder to handle, but if Williamson and Taylor get set again they are the two best players of spin in the team and shouldn't need to take risks.
When India bat it is all about Virat Kohli, the anchor who scored his 18th ODI century with near contempt in Napier. He and MS Dhoni, both averaging over 50 in ODI cricket, are the huge wickets for New Zealand but outside them the hosts sniff a chance.
Mitchell McClenaghan and company will still unleash some short stuff, given India's false hooking on Sunday. Opener Rohit Sharma, Ajinkya Rahane and Suresh Raina all looked vulnerable. The big question is, how to remove Kohli early.
Taylor's seen him a lot in the Indian Premier League, and admitted he even enjoyed watching Kohli's 123 off 111 balls in Napier. It hadn't provided the New Zealanders any more clues as to how to remove him, though.
"Maybe leave the openers in there and make him bat later on maybe, I'm not sure," Taylor quipped after a long pause.
New Zealand welcomed back Hamish Bennett for injured fast bowler Adam Milne, out for six weeks with a torn abdominal muscle. Bennett's unlikely to be used, though, with Kyle Mills the likely replacement in the 11.