Winning toss in Auckland vital for New Zealand
The beard has gone for a superstitious Brendon McCullum who desperately wants first use of what the lawnmower blades left behind on Eden Park today.
New Zealand's captain could barely disguise his joy with the first test drop-in pitch, but needs to end an awful run at the coin toss to unleash his pacemen in helpful conditions, and create some angst among India's batting lineup.
In the past six home internationals, the final Twenty20 against West Indies and all five ODIs against India, McCullum watched his opposing skipper get the choice after calling correctly.
"I've had a shave thinking that might help with the luck. The tosses here could be rather important so it would be nice if we're on the right side of those," he said.
In New Zealand's previous test McCullum won the toss but later admitted he blundered by bowling first on a turning pitch in Hamilton, against West Indies. New Zealand still won thanks to a blistering third innings from the pacemen, sealing the series 2-0 and providing confidence the momentum can continue against India.
Eden Park turf manager Blair Christiansen's first test pitch provoked plenty of discussion yesterday, and looked a different beast to the flat one served up for England in March. Then, an excellent display of swing bowling by Trent Boult got New Zealand in a winning position before they fell one wicket short of a series victory.
This one has more grass and looked harder to McCullum's eye. He felt there may not be as much sideways movement, but pace and bounce were important to get India's top order hopping about in unfamiliar conditions. As Boult showed in March, an Eden Park test can change quickly in a session if the ball hoops around.
India have the edge in terms of batting class but their entire top six are playing their first tests in New Zealand. That could be significant, particularly if Boult and Tim Southee can exploit the conditions and get among the two guns, Cheteshwar Pujara and Virat Kohli.
"Our bowlers are going pretty well at the moment. They're bowling well in partnerships and they're asking some tough questions. They get the ball to swing in the air, which it tends to do here, and they're pretty hostile when they get the opportunity to bowl at the tail," McCullum said.
India's seamers can be handy, too, with the 90-test veteran Zaheer Khan adding steel to an attack that was too loose in the ODIs. Mohammed Shami and Ishant Sharma can both exploit seam and bounce but the latter needs to improve.
Much will hinge on New Zealand's two big batsmen, Kane Williamson and Ross Taylor, who were a huge factor in the 4-0 ODI series win. Runs on the board and the quicks can attack with confidence. The opening pair Peter Fulton and Hamish Rutherford are under the microscope after some lean test form, while third seamer Neil Wagner needs a big test to hold out a growing queue of challengers.
McCullum confidently named an unchanged 11 for a third successive test. Doug Bracewell missed out again, and legspinner Ish Sodhi was retained despite conditions that look spin-unfriendly. He offers variety later in the game and the Indian batsmen will target him, which could create chances.
India's captain MS Dhoni offered few selection clues, aside from Ravindra Jadeja likely to get the nod ahead of Ravi Ashwin for the spinner's berth.
In their last series India lost 1-0 in South Africa in December, after dominating much of the first test in Johannesburg, then losing in Durban on a turning pitch. They remain No 2 in the world to New Zealand's eighth but were the bookies' outsiders yesterday given the conditions.
"When we've had crucial situations in the game we have not really capitalised and that is the only area of concern," Dhoni said.
"In the last test series we had one bad session, 2 1/2 hours of bad cricket, and if you compare it to the cricket we played in that series, it was really good."
Like the ODIs, the test series will be played without the decision review system which India refuse to agree to in bilateral series