CAST as so-called easybeats even New Zealand's greatest ever, Sir Richard Hadlee, has written off the Kiwis' chances of breaking a 26-year winning drought in Australia next week.
Based on Brendon McCullum's exploits in Brisbane yesterday, however, our nearest cricketing neighbours might not simply be the warm-up act for headliners India.
Against an Australia A attack whose members were yearning to shine in front of Test selectors John Inverarity and Andy Bichel, McCullum played party pooper to perfection, albeit on a batting-friendly pitch even he admitted was ''a belter''. A thunderous 146 from only 115 balls was a reminder of why the 30-year-old is such a hot commodity in Twenty20 cricket (he is, coincidentally signed to the Brisbane Heat for the Big Bash League) but the brutal knock was instructive, too, before next Thursday's first Test at the Gabba.
A middle order batsman for most of his 58-Test career McCullum has found a home as an opener for New Zealand since their visit to India this time last year, a tour in which, batting at No.3, he produced a wonderful 225 in Hyderabad.
It was also in India last year where McCullum, historically a wicketkeeper-batsman, quit wearing the gloves at Test level, in an effort to prolong his career.
His sparkling hundred in the tour match yesterday might have been plundered on the small, suburban Allan Border Field but in this touch he could well prove a damaging obstacle at the Gabba next week for an Australian side battling to name a fit bowling line-up. New Zealand will enter the first Test trying to win a five-day match in Australia for the first time since 1985.
''We've got some pretty big aspirations but there's a lot of cricket to be played,'' McCullum said. ''There's a lot of history there but this team has probably only really been together for six to 12 months. The Australian team is still dangerous - it's not the team they had with five of the greatest players of all time in it, so they've probably come back to the pack, but they're still very much a dangerous team. If we're any chance at all of pulling this off then we're going to have to play exceptionally well over the 10 days of cricket that we've got.''
The New Zealand XI finished a first day affected by rain and bad light at 4-290, driven by McCullum's frenetic scoring which included 21 boundaries and a half-dozen sixes. Fellow opener Martin Guptill added a comparatively tortoise-like 43 before captain Ross Taylor (45 not out) and Dean Brownlie (21 not out) saw out the afternoon.
McCullum conceded he had ''no idea'' what shape the Australian bowling attack would take next week but identified James Pattinson (2-65) and Ben Cutting (1-59) as the best of the Australia A quicks yesterday.
''I guess we'll find out a bit more about them in the next couple of days,'' he said. ''I thought if anything they just bowled a touch short at the start. Once they pitched their lengths up they were more dangerous. I thought Pattinson was probably the pick of them, with probably Cutting not too far away.''