Alastair Cook scored a second-innings century in the first Test, helping England escape with a draw. © Getty Images

Brendon McCullum, the New Zealand captain, on Wednesday (March 13) praised the ‘genius’ Alastair Cook, saying England’s free-scoring captain was second only to Don Bradman, the Australian legend, on current form.

Ahead of the second Test in Wellington, McCullum said New Zealand were keen to maintain momentum after the drawn first match in Dunedin. England escaped with a draw after more than a day’s play was lost to rain.

The pitch for the Wellington Test starting on Thursday is expected to offer more early bounce than the lifeless Dunedin wicket, and McCullum said he would probably make England bat first if he won the toss at the Basin Reserve.

“I think if there’s any advantage, it’s normally on day one… you’re trying to look to gain some ascendancy early in the Test match and hence that’s why we’re looking at bowling first,” he told reporters.

McCullum said Cook, who scored a second-innings century in Dunedin to help England deny New Zealand victory, was a daunting obstacle at the top of the batting order.

“I thought we bowled reasonably well to Cookie the other day, obviously he’s a genius batsman,” he said.

“His record is testament to that, where he’s at in his career at the moment is as good as anyone who has played the game probably, barring Bradman.”

Cook has scored 24 centuries in 88 Tests at an average of 49.6, including four hundreds in the five Tests since becoming permanent captain late last year, and McCullum said he appeared to be revelling in leading from the front.

Bradman, acknowledged as the greatest batsman in Test history, averaged 99.94 in 52 Tests between 1928 and 1948.