The picturesque Basin Reserve ground, bathed in sunshine on Wednesday after four days of rain, was an expanse of dark green. For casual visitors and pedestrians who are allowed to cut across the stadium, it would be a thing of beauty. But the batsmen would surely look at their bowlers with what the colour represents.
The white covers were rolled up and placed to one side as the curator ran the mowing machine on what one guessed from outside the boundary was the match pitch. A few runs up and down helped change the tone of the surface ever so slightly. If ever a visiting team, down and out, had to be delivered a psychological blow, curator Brett Sipthorpe was helping deal that with the sharp edges of his machine barely chewing up anything.
India, looking to salvage some pride at the end of a disastrous tour, may not need much reminding of home. It was just as well the six players who opted to train on Wednesday, spent little time at the Basin Reserve, the rain overnight and a morning training schedule having led them first to the indoor facility at the Westpac Stadium at the other end of the city. The pitch was as emphatic a response to some of the brown strips laid out in India for visiting teams.
Senior New Zealand paceman Tim Southee could barely control his glee after he was asked if he could spot the pitch. After all, the hosts had crushed West Indies by an innings and 73 runs in the last Test played at the ground, in December. In that game, it was Ross Taylor who had bailed out the team with a superb century before left-arm paceman Trent Boult finished with a 10-wicket haul.
But Taylor appears unlikely to play in the second and final Test starting on Friday, as his wife awaits the delivery of their second child. Unless he joins the squad by Friday evening, left-handed batsman Tom Latham will make his debut in the middle-order.
Whatever the mood of the India batsmen, the pace bowlers will back themselves on such a pitch. The curator has been quoted by the local media as saying that he plans to keep the grass on the surface to ensure it affords pace and bounce as well sideways movement. Having dismissed the Kiwis for 105 in the second innings of the Auckland Test, it would surely encourage India’s attack.
Mohammed Shami showed at the Eden Park how far he has come as a confident leader of the pace attack in such a short time. Ishant Sharma, after a series of poor efforts, captured nine wickets with his tireless efforts. Zaheer Khan completed three overseas Tests without any fitness issues and will back his skill, although the left-arm pacer, at 35, is clearly on the decline.
But the wicket could well turn out to be good for batting if the sun beats down for two days. That could make it tough for skipper MS Dhoni, who could win the toss having won each time on this tour. But it could be the challenge that galvanises the batsmen. In the first Test, Shikhar Dhawan’s mature century was not rewarded as the visitors slid to defeat after the well-set Virat Kohli’s dismissal.