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Could a four-pacer attack be an option for New Zealand at Hagley Oval?

The green-top Hagley Oval and the poor average of spinners at the venue could urge New Zealand to go in with an all-four pace attack. But they had lost the only match at Hagley Oval where they had executed this very plan. 

Aratrick Mondal Aratrick Mondal
New Delhi Published on: February 28, 2020 18:31 IST
Will Young of New Zealand A looks to bat during Day 2 of
Image Source : GETTY

Will Young of New Zealand A looks to bat during Day 2 of the Test Series between New Zealand A and India A at Hagley Oval on January 31, 2020 in Christchurch, New Zealand

Had it been the then Stephen Fleming's side heading into a Test match in Christchurch, there wouldn't have been a doubt surrounding Daniel Vettori's presence in the playing XI. Not just because of his overwhelming numbers, but also owing to the fact that the earthquake-damaged AMI Stadium, previously known as the Lancaster Park, which hosted more than 40 Tests in over 76 years until the calamity in 2011, held one of the best-combined average for spinners, 28.17, in New Zealand. Its replacement, the Hagley Oval, Christchurch's new Test attention, recorded a combined average of 59.78 for spinners - the worst numbers at a venue. 

Probably, this very number has resulted in all the talks about the possibility of New Zealand going in with an all-four pace attack in Hagley Oval for the second Test against India. 

According to ESPNCricinfo, the pitch looks bright green and will have more pace in offer than Wellington and there will be even more seam movement for the bowlers with no wind problem to deal with. 

Ahead of the second Test, New Zealand pacer Trent Boult, who had finished with five wickets in Wellington, explained the differences between Basin Reserve and Hagley Oval and why New Zealand would benefit more at the latter venue. 

"The Basin has generally turned into a very nice batting surface," he said. "There's a lot of runs been scored there both in domestic and international cricket. Here's a slightly different story. You're not battling the wind first of all.

"The overheads are there and it's generally a nice place to pitch the ball up and get it swinging around. So we do enjoy coming here as a bowling unit. Hopefully, we can continue that over the next couple of days."

Moreover, New Zealand have the options, with Nel Wagner returning and after Kyle Jamieson's impressive debut where he finished with 4 for 39 in the first innings which included the dismissals of Virat Kohli and Cheteshwar Pujara, and then returned to score 44 with the bat in New Zealand's 71-run stand down the order to help the hosts swell the lead past 150.

With Wagner certain to be part of the playing XI, he is will form the pace lineup with Boult and Southee. Jamieson's addition in place of spinner Ajaz Patel would complete the bowling department with four pacers. 

Boult, however, did not hint at any plan where New Zealand could play all four seamers.

"If you play four seamers you might struggle to get the ball at certain stages, but I think [captain] Kane [Williamson] will balance it nicely. That was our motto for a while on green wickets was to just go all out seam. We know what we're doing and we're excited about it," he said. 

"If we look at the record here from specifically New Zealand spinners, there haven't been too many wickets taken by spinners," Boult added. "If that suggests there isn't much turn or they haven't bowled [that much], I'm not too sure, but generally it's good wicket that has good pace and carry.

"I know it swings around here a bit and it generally a good wicket, a good contest between the bat and ball. That's what we are going to expect."

Although, what might stop New Zealand from not going ahead with this plan is that in the only Test they had lost at the Hagley Oval - against Australia in 2016 - the hosts had gone in with an all-four pace attack (Southee, Boult, Matt Henry and Wagner). In the other matches, they had one spinner. But then again, Jamieson's batting could make the difference this time.

Even statistically speaking, the Hagley Oval has traditionally favoured pacers - an average strike rate of 54.57 and a combined average of 28.46 as against 104.6 and 59.78 respectively recorded by the spinners.

At Hagley Oval Overs Maidens Runs Wkts Ave Econ SR
Pacers  1607.1 371 5010 176 28.46 3.11 54.7
Spinners 331.3 58 1136 19 59.78 3.42 104.6

However, these numbers are only from the six Tests that have been played at the venue since 2014. And barring Nathan Lyon, who had finished with 3 for 103 in 2016 tie, no frontline spinners have played at Hagley Oval. A year later, Bangladesh's Shakib Al Hasan bettered the record after finishing with 4 for 78. And he had combined with Mehidy Hasan to take six wickets in that match - the most spinners have managed in a Test match. New Zealand's only spinner in the present squad, Ajaz, played just once at the venue and bowled only 12 overs in the first innings and went wicketless. 

Could India too go with the same plan? Well, Ishant Sharma's injury and the possibility of being ruled out nullify the probability. Moreover, even in his presence, India would not want to leave out either between Ravichandran Ashwin and Ravindra Jadeja, both of whom provided India with a batting option at No.8. 

"We're definitely expecting them to adapt pretty quickly and be positive coming into this test match," Boult said. "Their records speak for themselves. They're No.1 in the world for a reason and that's solely because they can adapt to any conditions."

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