As his team kept winning and ticking all those boxes to keep India down in the One-day series, New Zealand skipper Brendon McCullum sported the look of some war weary general of a bygone era. His beard gave the appearance of someone eternally suffering, with the lack of runs with the bat and a near whisper at the press conferences providing that overall effect.
But Wednesday was different, gearing up for a new challenge with his side starting favourites against an opposition that had found no answers to the questions asked of it. Although New Zealand hardly need that, McCullum was seeking luck with the toss. India skipper MS Dhoni called it correctly each time in the ODIs, although the hosts ended up winning four with one game tied.
But the Kiwi skipper turned up looking bright, after a clean shave, and sounded loud and clear at the media conference on the eve of the first Test at the Eden Park. “I’ve had a shave thinking that might help with the luck,” he grinned. “The tosses here could be rather important so it would be nice if we’re on the right side of those.”
Although Dhoni sported the stubble he would have yearned for a pitch where all the grass is shaved. McCullum could joke about grass on the drop-in pitch, saying how it had a funny tinge on one end. “I have no clue,” Dhoni started. “More than the amount of grass, it is whether it is live grass or not, or the base of the wicket has moisture or not. These are the two things that push you to take a decision.”
McCullum sounded very much the winning captain, emphatic he would unleash his pace trio of Tim Southee, Trent Boult and Neil Wagner if he won the toss. And it would be the same eleven which played in the final Test of the previous home series against West Indies, which New Zealand won 2-0. That settled any doubt India-born leg-spinner Ish Sodhi may not play.
Although Dhoni did not say it in as many words, his comments made it clear India would also pick the same eleven that lost the prevous Test, against South Africa in Durban. Ishant Sharma was in because he can “try to get the batsmen out with his extra bounce” and Ravindra Jadeja, who took six wickets in Durban, preferred over the struggling Ravichandran Ashwin as the lone spinner.
The India skipper broke down every aspect, talking about his key players like Zaheer Khan and Cheteshwar Pujara. But the hard fact remains that India have not won a Test since the win in the first Test on the 2011 West Indies tour, in Kingston, Jamaica. Since then they have lost nine Tests and drawn three, two of those coming on that Caribbean series.
India, as of now, look far from the side that will fight back and win the Auckland Test. But for Dhoni, winning the toss could be the first step in that direction.
New Zealand Captain, Brendon McCullum
“It’s got a decent covering of grass, albeit funny looking grass at one end. It looks hard as well so we expect a bit more bounce than what there was against England and hopefully there’s a bit of pace as well. I don’t expect a huge amount of sideways movement but there may just be enough.
They’ve got some changes which we’ve gone through the research to have our gameplans ready for those guys...We have to concentrate on what we’re good at, and hopefully that will present us with opportunities to attack them in areas where they might not be as strong.
“They’re very good players and a lot of them are proven players. They’re not the Tendulkars, Laxmans or Dravids, but they’re outstanding in their own right and Virat Kohli is one of the best players in the world.
India Captain, Mahendra Singh Dhoni
The plus point in Test matches is that you can pick and choose when you want to hit it and when you don't. At times in the ODIs, it gets dominated by how many the opposition have scored, how many you are chasing.
We have not capitalised when we had crucial situations in the game. That is the only area of concern to some extent. In the last series, we had one bad
session, two-and-a-half hours of bad cricket. If you compare it to the cricket we played throughout that series, that was really good.
It is not only motivation. It is about bringing up new plans and helping the youngsters to execute those plans.
He has been really consistent, right from the time when he started playing Test cricket. He is more of a banker, he respects the bowlers, wants them to pitch in his areas, and gives himself plenty of time.