Black Caps pace attack set to unleash on India
Unleash the heavy artillery. Finally, the pace men are pawing at the turf on their garden of Eden as New Zealand go in for the kill against India.
After the runfests of Napier and Hamilton, which saw New Zealand go 2-0 up with three to play in this one-day series, batsmen will be jumpier on the hard and fast Eden Park drop-in today.
It means New Zealand will almost certainly include fast bowler Hamish Bennett for his first ODI in nearly three years, and try to hurry up the Indian batsmen as they did at Napier.
With just one victory required for a prized series win, it will provide as much a test of New Zealand's ruthlessness as it will India's fighting qualities, as the tourists scrap to stay alive and regain the world No 1 ranking they lost to Australia.
"With the small boundaries it's a bit daunting [for bowlers] but in the last couple of games it's swung around a little bit. It does generally swing here so hopefully we can make the most of that," New Zealand paceman Tim Southee said.
Southee was looking forward to seeing Bennett "in full flight". The Canterbury quick with the bustling, front-on action gets a spot for his 13th ODI on form, after being the leading wicket-taker for the first half of the Plunket Shield with 24 wickets at 23.
His ODI numbers were impressive before he required major back surgery involving wire and screws in 2012, having claimed 20 wickets at 22.
With Mitchell McClenaghan returning to the scene of his 5-58 against West Indies on Boxing Day, and just two short of bringing up 50 ODI wickets in the second-fewest matches (he plays his 21st ODI today), there could be fireworks for under-pressure Indian openers Rohit Sharma and Shikhar Dhawan. Senior man Kyle Mills, more swing and guile than pace and bounce, could be the unlucky one to miss out.
India's captain MS Dhoni raised eyebrows by bowling first in Hamilton but both skippers will likely choose to send in the opposition if recent Auckland ODIs are any guide.
New Zealand were skittled cheaply, batting first, in their past three ODIs at Eden Park; scoring 156 against West Indies last month, 185 against England last February and 206 against South Africa in 2012. All three targets were chased down, although West Indies lost eight wickets in a thriller which was only settled by some Darren Sammy blows into the stands.
Those seats should be packed with the biggest crowd of the series. As many as 22,000 tickets had sold last night and with corporate boxes and walk-up sales added on, something in the 30,000 vicinity is expected. Orange T-shirts and eager hands jostling for the $100,000 crowd catch prize could make it interesting in the stands, particularly at each end where a miscue can fly over the rope.
Consistency is the buzzword for these Black Caps who haven't been good at closing out series. Now up to seventh on the rankings, they won't want to give India a sniff, with two more slow surfaces in Hamilton and Wellington to come.
Star India batsman Virat Kohli is the key man again, having looked near unstoppable in games one and two. "He's a very good player but I don't think we've bowled particularly well to him when he's first come out and it's allowed him to get in and get going," Southee said.
The tourists will likely make changes, too, with a cutting edge needed in the bowling ranks. Senior paceman Ishant Sharma is struggling and could be replaced by Varun Aaron, who has six wickets from four ODIs and is renowned as the fastest in the squad.
India had a setback yesterday when batsman Suresh Raina was struck on the elbow by a delivery from Mohammed Shami. Raina had the elbow packed in ice and was off for scans, placing him in doubt. Ambati Rayudu or all-rounder Stuart Binny are contenders to replace him.