Dhoni satisfied with India's preparations
One luxury modern Indian cricketers usually do not have is warm-up games before an international tour begins. Five days of practice sessions at the sprawling Nelson Park is what India have had before the first ODI against New Zealand across the road at the compact McLean Park, and MS Dhoni sounded satisfied with his side's preparation.
"I think preparations have been good," Dhoni said after India's nets. "We were given very good facilities. The ground we were given opposite the stadium, we were given good pitches there. The practice wickets were almost like centre-wicket, so we had good practice. Net bowlers were also made available. So from the preparation point of view, it has been good. And we have looked into each and every aspect of not only batting and bowling, but fielding also, which will be very crucial. So most of the areas have been covered and we have had a few days to prepare."
The Pacific Ocean bore a sombre look under overcast skies last evening and this morning, although it didn't rain. But winds have been quite strong and persistent on most days, and Dhoni said that required plenty of adjustment in all disciplines. "When you are batting, you have to pick a side [where] you are looking to play more shots. There is always a risk. If it stays as it is, there is quite a strong breeze. The straight boundaries are quite long so if you are hitting there against the wind then there are chances that you have got another extra ten yards. All that makes it quite crucial. So you have to be intelligent about it, which areas you want to pick.
"With the bowling, especially bowling against the wind, it is slightly more demanding. It is an obstruction and you tend to get tired slightly quicker. Fielding also, the outfields seem quite slow, the grounds are not big, so you need to judge where to stand so batsmen don't steal doubles from you. All in all, reading conditions does help so you can adapt accordingly."
Dhoni expected the wind, as well as the pitch, to help the fast bowlers. "The wicket looks good, dry and hard, looks good for ODIs. Fast bowlers will get extra bounce. Intelligent bowlers may use the wind to their advantage, if you bowl in the right areas the ball may swing for a duration of time. Normally it stops after 10-15 overs, but here it may be prolonged a bit. Bowlers will have something from the wicket but once the batsmen get set they will love the pace and bounce."
Most of the India players in this squad have never played internationals in New Zealand before, and Dhoni said it would be good exposure ahead of the 2015 World Cup. India are scheduled to play two group games in Auckland and Hamilton, while New Zealand will also host a quarter-final and a semi-final.
"It will be good for the team because we will have players who have already played in those conditions and particularly at venues where you will be playing, so overall it will be a good tour for us."
A gulf separates the two teams as far as the ICC rankings go, but New Zealand are a "fantastic side", Dhoni said. "They have always been a side that is very contributive. They back each other. Fielding is something that is very important for them. They put a lot of emphasis on it and they have individuals who contribute in different ways - bat, ball - and they have got quite a few of them. So that really helps, in the shorter format especially. Whenever you see the big tournaments, they do very well, so they are a side that is very well respected. Fantastic individuals to play against."
In the absence of Yuvraj Singh, Dhoni also has to decide on whom to play at No. 4, but he wasn't ready to reveal much at this stage, only saying that India would not tinker too much. "We will see what suits us the best and then we will move ahead. As of now, after the Greg Chappell era, experimentation is something we have done away with. We don't really experiment anymore. We will give chances to a few players and hopefully they will rise up to the occasion and accept the challenges they are pushed into."
Abhishek Purohit is a sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo