As if India were not physically and emotionally spent enough after the Friday night drubbing in Wellington, they had to travel 700 kilometers, by air and road, to Whangarei for the two-day practice game against New Zealand XI beginning tomorrow. That’s less than 36 hours between two games, at two venues on opposite ends of the north island.
The sparsely populated Whangarei (pronounced Fangarei) is situated on the uppermost tip of the country. The weather is very agreeable but the sun is a bit harsh here. The Indians, probably, wouldn’t mind that. They would have been more wary of the harsher spotlight at a bigger centre. Especially after the 4-0 hammering in the ODI series.
India will hope that the five Test reinforcements — especially Cheteshwar Pujara, Murali Vijay and Zaheer Khan — will shore up their ailing batting and bowling. In any case, the fortunes in ODIs do not always mirror those in the longer format. India were vanquished by South Africa in the ODIs, but the subsequent Test series was much closer.
Cautious yet confident
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Which was perhaps why New Zealand coach Mike Hesson was slightly cautious. “There will definitely be some confidence within the group that we can compete with these guys and they are a good side. But we know it is a different format. A few new faces, but we will certainly take some confidence into the series,” he said after the fifth and final ODI at the Westpac Stadium on Friday.
“We had a good look at the Indian seam attack. Clearly the conditions will be a little different, especially in the first innings of the game,” Hesson said. “The Indian seamers are good bowlers, especially if there is a little bit in the wicket. We have got to prepare accordingly, obviously quick change in format so we need to make that shift. Our openers are coming in off some form domestically, so hopefully they can set the tone for us.”
New Zealand were supposed to play their Test openers Peter Fulton and Hamish Rutherford in this practice game, but both pulled out to participate in the domestic Plunket Shield. In their absence, the competition looks weak, with three under-19 players in the Kiwi team, and performance here by the Indians may not be a significant indicator of the things to come in the first Test beginning in Auckland on February 6.
India, however, will have an encouraging sight greeting them when they arrive at the oval in Whangarei. The pavilion here looks like a replica of the iconic Lord’s pavilion, the place where MS Dhoni, Shikhar Dhawan and Ravindra Jadeja stood smiling for a photo op with the Champions Trophy in their hand after they won it at Edgbaston. That was their last significant win outside the subcontinent.