Greetings from New Zealand
“Kia Ora, Welcome to New Zealand. What do you think so far?”
Having grown up in New Zealand and having seen many famous people interviewed on their arrival here, be it to play sport, act in a movie or buy a patch of paradise, one can only assume the greeting mentioned above is the be all, and end all, of NZ Journalism School’s “Top things to know before you graduate”.
Almost every newspaper, radio or television interview conducted with visitors, has an element of insecurity to it, we pine to know we fit in on the world stage and are liked by others who are bigger, better and more popular than us.
With only 4 million people in the whole of New Zealand, we’ve got almost as many people as Chennai but our 4 million is spread across an area the size of the state of Andhra Pradesh. Don’t get me wrong, we do well for our size, and we have our fair share of success, but it can be frustrating.
There is something about New Zealand’s history that has left a lingering self doubt around our place in the world; or contributed to a desire to please, impress and be reassured that we are competent and worthy adversaries.
MS Dhoni and the Indian cricket team are the latest such, high-profile adversary, who have touched down here and were met with the same standard welcome. Dhoni’s response of it being “quite far from India” is an understatement to say the least, as there are differences on and off the field that will challenge and frustrate his side while they are here.
One usual contrast between the countries, which they shouldn’t have to worry about, is the cold weather because, unlike the last time they were here in 2008-09, all matches for this tour will be in the warmer, North Island with temperatures set to range between 25-30 degrees Celsius.
This is an important, and timely, visit for the current ODI World Champions, as they prepare to defend their title when the ICC World Cup is held here, and in Australia, at the end of 2015. Dhoni has made it very clear already that their eyes will be open, and plans will be formulated, as they record the unique characteristics and nuances the local multi-sport stadiums present. New Zealand’s passion for Rugby has influenced the shape of most grounds here and it’s successful recent hosting of the Rugby World Cup in 2011, probably secured it the rights to co-host the Cricket World Cup here next year.
The use of the grounds for both sporting codes makes for some short boundaries, some strange pitch angles and provides a real advantage to the local team; affecting the types of bowlers used, the lengths they bowl and the areas batsman try to score. Some grounds provide greatest reward for batsman hitting straight; while others like this weekend’s ground, McLean Park in Napier, have very short square boundaries, so a player can be rewarded if they are brave enough to whip the ball off the stumps, successfully.
While Dhoni, Rohit Sharma, Ishant Sharma and Suresh Raina all toured in 2008/09, much has changed since then so any knowledge they bring from that series may not help. Last time they were here, most stadiums throughout New Zealand were construction sites, as work was done to upgrade them in preparation for the 2011 Rugby World Cup. I played in that series for New Zealand, as a wicketkeeper-batsman, and it was quite surreal at times, playing in front of amazing, exuberant crowds wedged into half the stadium while the other side of the ground was a silent mess of tangled metal and heavy machinery, waiting for the crowd to leave and the workers to return.
Eden Park, in Auckland, has been used for cricket for over 100 years, most of that with the cricket pitch at a 45 degree angle to the rugby ground, creating unique angles and peculiar fielding positions,(like a long off, on the boundary , only 5 metres outside the inner ring!) But since India’s last visit five years ago, all has changed, with the cricket pitch now running directly along the rugby halfway line, making for some of the shortest straight boundaries in world cricket and an almost rectangular boundary square of the wicket.
It will be like a new ground for all the Indians, even those who have succeeded there before.
One reason why there are no games in the South Island this trip, is that the stadium they played at in Christchurch last time is no more, with what was Jade Stadium, now abandoned, after extensive damaged during the 2011 Christchurch earthquake.
That stadium was also a construction site back in 2009 and a star-studded Indian team demolished our bowling line-up there, when they posted 392/4 in their 50 overs. Sachin Tendulkar had to retire hurt on 163 in the 45th over, and was probably on the way to, what would have been the first ODI double hundred recorded.
Much like India’s team from 2008/09, much has changed in New Zealand; from the pitches, to the grounds, to the team they will face this weekend, but some things will still be certain when the tour ends. They will have enjoyed the visit, our hospitality and some great local food. New Zealand will have been competitive at home. And when they come to leave, we’ll say, “Haere ra, Safe travels and one last thing… What did you think of New Zealand?”
By Peter Mc Glashan
(The writer is a former New Zealand wicketkeeper-batsman who tweets at @petermcglashan)