Mouth-watering start to cricket test series
Mount Maunganui's test cricket debut is temptingly poised to provide unseasonable heat with Lockie Ferguson and Jofra Archer adding speed and spice to the NZ/English test series.
When New Zealand meet England in the first game of their two-test series starting on Thursday at Bay Oval, the popular seaside spot should witness two of the world's quickest bowlers on opposing sides in a mouth-watering start to the home test season.
Lockie Ferguson's inclusion in the Black Caps squad gives the hosts their first express option since Shane Bond's back had the final say on his test career a decade ago.
In the opposition touring party is Jofra Archer, who exploded onto the international scene this year as part of England's World Cup-winning side then snared 22 wickets at 20.27 in four appearances in the drawn Ashes test series versus Australia.
While white-ball cricket requires bowlers to be demandingly accurate and prefers parsimony over penetration, the red-ball battle allows the pace demons to tear in, with the odd boundary happily sacrificed for speed and securing scalps.
Batting, which appears to be a simple task to master during T20 and ODI games, can become treacherous when genuine quicks are encouraged to be let off the leash in the longer form.
Archer has already shown in this country what fear he may instil in the hosts as they pad up at Bay Oval. On what team-mate Ben Stokes described as a "seriously flat" wicket at Cobham Oval in Whangarei on Friday, not even New Zealand XI century-maker Glenn Phillips was immune to the terrors the 24-year-old inflicted.
"My goodness," Phillips told Cricinfo after his knock of 116 from 219 balls.
"That was the quickest I've faced in my life. The challenge was unbelievable.
"He [Archer] got me on the forearm, he nearly took my head off a couple of times and then he took me on the chest a couple of times.
"With Steve Smith getting hit a couple of months ago, it [the fear of injury] is in the back of your mind a bit as he's running in a bit. But he's not out there in trying to intentionally hurt anyone. It's more a tactical thing. If you're watching the ball, hopefully you should be OK. But if you happen to be in the wrong place at the wrong time…"
For the first time in a decade, New Zealand will likely aim to fight fire with fire by giving the 28-year-old Ferguson a long-awaited test debut - either at the Mount or in the second test at Hamilton's Seddon Park the following week.
Black Caps coach Gary Stead wanted "the point of difference Lockie brings that other guys don't have."
"There's no doubt that x-factor is an exciting prospect."
Ferguson, who took 21 wickets in a key role for NZ in their World Cup title quest, also relishes the prospect of giving the likes of Joe Root, Rory Burns and Dominic Sibley a hurry-up.
"That's part of my role in the team ... to bring a bit of anxiety potentially by bowling extra speed," he said.
"Fast bowlers are going to create a threat and cause problems for batters just from pure pace."
Ferguson won't be a surprise package. He made his ODI debut in late 2016, and as has been the case in the limited-overs format, might not open the bowling - which Archer will for England - in test cricket.
Should he start at Bay Oval, skipper Kane Williamson may wish to entrust the new cherry to the veteran swing duo of Trent Boult and Tim Southee and use Ferguson as first-change shock value; much like Neil Wagner has been effectively utilised.
No matter when, it's set up for the test series to start in a real hurry.
At a glance:
Black Caps test squad: Kane Williamson (captain), Tom Latham, Jeet Raval, Ross Taylor, Henry Nicholls, BJ Watling, Tom Blundell, Colin de Grandhomme, Mitchell Santner, Todd Astle, Tim Southee, Matt Henry, Neil Wagner, Lockie Ferguson, Trent Boult.
Nov 21-25: First test v England at Mount Maunganui
Nov 29-Dec 3: Second test v England at Hamilton