Confident Brendon McCullum may have to gamble to make impact again

 

In a polar reversal of England's stance in these matters, New Zealand's captain revealed his team and his preferred strategy. Of course, it is always possible that Brendon McCullum was playing the sportsmen's old double bluff, though it did not sound like it and either way he was supplying information.

McCullum said that New Zealand may opt for a four-man seam attack in the first Test at Lord's but have not definitely discarded the left-arm spinner Bruce Martin. He confirmed that the final place was between Martin and the returning fast bowler, Doug Bracewell. Neil Wagner, who came into the side two months ago when Bracewell injured a foot in an accident at home has done enough to keep his place.

"He's definitely a chance and it does look quite dry," he said of Martin. "But the overhead conditions are something that we've got to be aware of and also try and take into account the forecast, if the game gets shortened how that impacts on the spinner's ability to impose himself on the game. Either way we've got good options. Wagner definitely plays, it's either Martin or Bracewell for that final position."

Nor will McCullum be wary of bowling first as he did twice in the recent series between the sides in New Zealand. It was successful on the first occasion in Dunedin when England were bowled out for 167, less so on the second in Wellington when England made 465 in their most proficient innings of the series.

Asked if he would bowl again if the coin falls his way, McCullum said: "I think so. I'm not going to hang my hat on it just yet but just with what's forecast and the fact it may not be a five-day game, if you can maybe get a jump it may be bowling first. The pitch looks dryish, it may be that cloud cover that's going to give you a good jump if you do manage to win the toss."

This was in contrast to Alastair Cook, who is continuing in the recent tradition of England captains in revealing the square root of nothing if they can possibly help it. New Zealand, on top after the three matches at home although the series finished 0-0, may feel they have nothing to lose. By common consent McCullum looked the more effective captain in the series at home. While it should not be forgotten that Cook had engineered an historic England triumph in India only weeks previously, there was no question that he seemed reactive compared to his counterpart's willingness to improvise and attack.

"It was circumstantial," said McCullum. "Our team was playing some excellent cricket and for most of that series we were either on par or with our noses in front. I'd hope that they're educated gambles. Just because you don't run past the principal's office doesn't mean you're not doing your homework. Whilst it may appear you're trying to follow your instinct there's elements of study and preparation which have gone into those thoughts."

For New Zealand to compete over 10 days, the first five of them at the shrine of world cricket, McCullum may have to gamble again. He has his chips at the ready.

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