The most intriguing aspect of tomorrow's play will be how Brendon McCullum applies himself. He's done really well to get himself to 38 from 75 balls at stumps, but with New Zealand needing to avert the follow-on, he's going to really have to outdo himself. Having given up wicketkeeping in Tests to concentrate on his batting, he really has no option but deliver. Touring India is tough, and given that he's never played a Test here before, and the psychological impact of the 4-0 hammering in Bangladesh, McCullum has his work cut out.
McCullum, at 29, is something of a father figure in the squad, but needs to perform like one. Having given up wicketkeeping to concentrate on increasing his batting average, McCullum has to deliver no matter where he bats. His naturally aggressive ways haven’t always worked, most noticeably in Sri Lanka last year, where a little over a year ago, sitting in Colombo, I wrote this about McCullum.
Since then, he's averaged about 50 in Test cricket batting at No's 6 and 7. Now, after requesting he be shunted up the order, McCullum has a chance to prove he can deliver as a senior statesman on a very difficult tour. He also has to shed the image of a dasher. To succeed in India you have to get down and dirty. That's the key. The most successful non-Asian batsmen here have been those with the ticker for battle: Andy Flower and Matthew Hayden in 2000-01, Damien Martyn and Michael Clarke in 2004, and Michael Hussey and Strauss in 2008.
McCullum needs to become patient and rein in his attacking instincts. Too often he's been guilty of throwing away his wicket with an over-ambitious shot. Too often it appears he's done that not because of an inclination to dominate, but because of poor judgment when he's getting carried away. McCullum's technique is not set up to block, nudge and accumulate but he has to evaluate himself on this tour, and tomorrow could dictate the course of his series.
In the subcontinent, overseas batsmen have often been found wanting in proper footwork against spinners. Having to stretch far forward to try and suffocate the turn, coincidentally having to be prepared to rock back and cut, is a tough task and then there is the need to produce the sweep shot. McCullum cut and pulled well today, and his defense was also very impressive. He's shown patience today, but tomorrow the real challenge will be to curb his natural game for a longer period. Not so much that he bats in a way that is alien to him, but enough to show his team-mates and critics that he's not going without a fight.