February 24, 2009

Keeping the boss happy

New Zealand Cricket knows on which side their bread is buttered. Ergo, expect more favourable conditions for the Indian batsmen this time round

The ever-changing weather plays a central role on a tour of New Zealand, but it is generally better behaved now, in late summer © Getty Images

When India last toured New Zealand, in December 2002, we stitched them up all right. They were known for their weakness in seamer-friendly conditions, and they got green ones to play on all right.

In the two Tests, the highest score India made was 161; in the second Test, in Hamilton, in the first innings both sides failed to make 100. New Zealand won the series 2-0. Things then didn't overly improve for India in the ODI series, which they lost 2-5.

You could argue that the weather had a major impact on producing green wickets, because pre-Christmas in New Zealand the climate is far from conducive to dry brown wickets; but it did not help India that the New Zealand administration's desire to produce wickets with pace and bounce meant grass, and lots of it, was left on the surface. All that conspired into a nightmare for anyone who didn't bowl. But hey, who cared: with a batting line-up that read Sehwag, Dravid, Tendulkar, Ganguly, Laxman it gave us Kiwis the best chance of winning... and we did.

Little did we know that the boss, Indian cricket, was not impressed, We had embarrassed this powerful cricket nation, and in particular what they were most proud of - their top six batsmen. They were dispatched and sent packing. They were laughed at, ridiculed, and their bravery brought into question.

That was six years ago and we have not seen them back until now, and so it comes as no surprise that recently comments have been made by the tourists about the difficulties this grass-loving country poses for a batsman, because all but one of the above batting greats are back for another crack.

However Messrs Tendulkar, Dravid and Co can rest easy this time round because I can almost guarantee conditions will be vastly different. Why? Well, because New Zealanders and New Zealand cricket understand who pays the wages nowadays and this tour for the Black Caps is very much the scenario of playing your boss at golf. You need to put up a good account for yourself if you want to get the desired invite again. However, if you are going to win you don't want to stuff him out of sight in some sort of perceived under-handed manner. If you do win, do so in a manner that allows the boss to retain some sort of dignity, and if you lose, make sure he felt the engagement worthy of his time. That way you may just get the invite to join the country club.

In cricket terms what New Zealand really need to achieve from this tour is a sense of goodwill towards New Zealand cricket from Indian cricket once the tour is over. That does not mean rolling over and dying, because fans of New Zealand cricket also like to win. However, this could be the last time New Zealand fans see these great batting names of Indian cricket on our shores, and both nations may feel cheated if seaming wickets nullify the Indian batting machine.

So the people under the most pressure may in fact be the ground staff. Nothing but perfect cricket conditions will suffice for this tour. In the ODIs we want conditions that provide for quality strokeplay, but ones that don't turn Iain O'Brien and Co into cannon fodder. In the Tests we need a session or two of movement, followed by a batsman-friendly period, and then some turn and variable bounce later on.

The good news is that this can be done with the application of a little work ethic. Also, over the last few years New Zealand wickets have improved out of sight, and the weather also generally plays ball in late summer, unlike in early summer - the part of the season India experienced last time.

So the red carpet, or more appropriately the brown, dry carpet, may be rolled out for our guests this time round, and fewer demons may be found in the Basin Reserve pitch; but that said, there are inherent challenges that Indian players must overcome in New Zealand.

In cricket terms what the Black Caps really need to achieve from this tour is a sense of goodwill towards New Zealand cricket from Indian cricket once the tour is over. That does not, however, mean rolling over and dying, because fans of New Zealand cricket also like to win

Whether or not the pitch has seam movement or not, most New Zealand surfaces bounce. It's not an Australian-type bounce but rather a tennis-ball-style bounce. The ball may only carry to the keeper at shin height, but as it passes the batsman it can be quite high, even when very full. Indian players who are used to being able to move into the ball and driving on the up will find that in New Zealand you must get much closer to the ball if you want to experience good timing. In defence, on the front foot they must get used to the ball hitting high on the bat.

New Zealand soils need grass to provide enough pace, and that grass also provides seam movement. If caution is taken by the ground staff, pitches could be slow. In India the ball often skids and that provides for good batting; in New Zealand the ball will hold up and that means patience and batting accuracy become paramount.

It's not just the surface you must get your head around in New Zealand. Stoppages and shortened games become a challenge too. March and April may be the best summer months, but in a narrow country bordered on both sides by ocean you can expect very changeable weather. You must be able to deal with starting and restarting games at will and adapting to the differing situations that scenario brings.

You can expect a lot of wind too. All venues in New Zealand can get windy, let alone Wellington, which on most days blows a gale. It ruins the bowling rhythm, makes your eyes water, chills you to the bone, affects you balance and back-lift, and most of all is exhausting. You must have strategies, preferably developed through experience, to deal with the wind in New Zealand.

Wind and a bit of chill also leads to old, and even young, bones getting a little stiff. It can take a bit of extra time to get the body loosened up and moving early in an innings or bowling spell. For those used to starting warm and loose, special attention needs to be taken to ensure stiffness does not result in sloppiness.

New Zealand is not that dissimilar to England, but it is most certainly not the subcontinent, and thus takes a bit of getting used to as far as the Indians are concerned. However, the only advantage in terms of assistance the New Zealand bowlers may get this time round against a touring Indian side may simply be an initial psychological one, based on the mental scarring from the last time the Indian players toured, and stories of horror told to the new guys in the squad.

Former New Zealand opener Mark Richardson is now a television commentator and cricket columnist

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Javed on February 26, 2009, 23:25 GMT

    ECB wanted to start T20 Pro League similar to IPL with the partnership of Alan Stanford. Guess what happened to Alan Stanford, he is on his way down hill at 1000mph speed, and investigated for Fraud by US. ECB angered BCCI and see what happened to Alan Stanford, he was sacrificed and ECB's dream disappered. Lets blame BCCI for everything and with all sort of Hollywood style imaginary theories. Some blogger nammed ,dsachit, here brought up India's win against SL few weeks ago and Blamed BCCI for SL's defeat. If Indian wins Toss and scores 300 runs and wins One-day game, the BCCI gets blamed tat they forced SL board to make tailor made conditions for India. Well what happened to SL batting then? Why blame BCCI that SL lost the Toss? Why blame BCCI for the impotent display of home team in front of the home crowd and familiar conditions in SL..

  • S on February 26, 2009, 22:17 GMT

    So Mr. Mark Richardson, I wonder what happened to your theory here? The guys are not keeping the Boss happy and it doesn't seem quite like playing Golf with your Boss atall. Your so called boss actually lost in first T20 and proved the backbne of your theory completely wrong. Uhh.. I will pray for you Mark, so Boss can win the second T20 and you can save your face..hehehehehe

  • L on February 26, 2009, 20:59 GMT

    Not only pepple like Mark, but quite a few of New Zealanders ( and Australians i suspect)cant accept the fact that Cricket is no more an exclusive white man 's game with rules being framed in the Home Country i.e. Britain ( Surprisingly i found English dont seem to really object to not being the sole authority on cricket). Well hard luck Mark, you can do nothing about it except may be write petulant pieces in Cricinfo. The money is in India and so is the viewership and more than that fortunately for Cricket and unfortuntely for you, not many New Zealanders ( and Australians) think like you.

  • Akshit on February 26, 2009, 16:09 GMT

    As an Indian fan reading this article and associated comments makes me feel a little ticked off to say the least. I think Mark forgets two very important components in India's arsenal - Zaheer Khan and Ishant Sharma. They are rated by many as the best new ball pair around and are head and shoulders above the Kiwi new ball attack. No doube Indian batsmen will struggles somewhat but i think so will this ordinary Kiwi batting line up against a quality attack - something India did not have last time. Plus lets not forget those games were closer than you make it sound. India have done well abroad over the last few years in all conditions and its time to give the team some credit. Mark think about what you are saying before making such irresponsible comments. I am sure Daniel Vettori - being the fierce and respectable competitor he is - would not enjoy your article either.


  • Shane on February 25, 2009, 22:11 GMT

    Mark does make a good point, Indian cricket has money and NZ Cricket does not. It's a sad fact of the modern game.

    However, every country tailors their pitches to the home team, no matter who is coming. Surely we must be allowed to do the same. If the touring side are good enough, they can score the runs. Besides, I think if you walked down Auckland City and asked how many people feel cheated if Tendulkar doesn't cart our boys all over Eden Park, you would be in for a long night and maybe a few black eyes as well.

  • S P on February 25, 2009, 21:03 GMT

    Hi Indian fans, how did the game go last night? Looks like the better team won aye.....Mark is 100% right, and what do you guys know about cricket.

  • Rav on February 25, 2009, 19:16 GMT

    I see many India bashing postings from Pakistanis and British and Aussies who find any vehicle to attack BCCI - It is now beyond jealousy - the rubbish written by Richardson if found to be true - will only make me happy - India finally commands the power it truly deserves- which is dictate types of pitches, types of scores, margins of victory etc

    so, the talent of Ishant, Zaheer, Sehwag, Sachin pale - only Ponting, Lara, et al count - what a joke

    so, be it - now the cricket nations have to live with it - with the source of revenue, salaries India needs to be worshipped - Love it - either way

  • pubudu on February 25, 2009, 16:00 GMT

    good article, a very good one. indians always goes home crying when ever some one defeats them and speaks about conspiracy etc. they complain about umpaire refferels bcause usually the indians are the people who gets benefit of the doubt most times because every umpaire in world doesn't want to loose job by making bcci angry. they will win the contest to best cry babies by a quite a margin

  • sachit on February 25, 2009, 13:40 GMT

    It has to be admitted there is some truth in Mark Richardson's Opinion. Sadly enough India's Megalomaniac attitude towards cricket is disturbing.All cricketing nations are keen to impress India- as we saw in the recent Sri lanka - India series. Sri lankan pitches have been slow in the last few years.At the R Premadasa typically teams score around 220. But we saw India amass scores in excess of 300.Aided with the toss and these tailor made conditions India romped home.The Sri Lankan authorities were keen to impress Crickets Big Brother. Maybe that's why Arjuna Ranathunga who criticized the IPL and angered the BCCI by allowing ICL players to play domestic cricket was sent home.Teams have to prepare conditions that suit their style. Not to see some ''greats'' who scored most of their runs on placid batting tracks and ''legends'' who cant face the moving ball score hundreds and fifties.

  • aaron on February 25, 2009, 13:30 GMT

    Yes lets provide Indias flat track bullies with some slow dry,flat wickets and make them feel at home, so they might want to come back.HARDEN UP FELLAS! thats why its called international cricket,if all the pitches around the world were like Indias there wouldnt be test cricket,it would be limited overs only,or baseball, no wonder India produce the batsman, who wouldnt w ant to b at on those featherbeds!!!

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