July 22, 2003

Bracewell's touch will still be part of Indian tour

New Zealand might be without their newly-appointed coach John Bracewell when they tour India in September-October but his stand-in Ashley Ross is looking forward to the challenge and told Wisden CricInfo today that no matter where the first Test is played, New Zealand will be ready.

There is conjecture that the poor state of the ground scheduled to be used at Kanpur, whether for the first or second Test, could see the match transferred to another venue.

Ross, who has toured regularly with the New Zealand team in his role as player development manager and who has toured India before, was asked to take on the coaching role when it became apparent Bracewell would not be available in time to take the side on the tour. He was surprised to be asked. "It's always surprising when you don't apply for something and you get asked to do a job like this," he said.

Bracewell may not be on the tour, but his input will be there in spirit as Ross expects to be in close consultation with Bracewell before the side leaves, on September 23. The tour represented a big challenge to the New Zealand side because, in seven tours there (and Ross is a coach who knows his statistics), New Zealand had never managed to win a series and had drawn only one series.

It was also expected there would be some payback for the New Zealanders after the unfortunate weather which marred India's tour at Christmas-New Year last summer. But that was when Ross said, "When they bowl the first ball of the Test series, whether it is in Mohali, Kanpur, Nagpur or Ahmedabad, we will be ready."

Ross believed New Zealand were improving in Asia. They had won more often recently, and had taken out the Bank Alfalah Cup in Sri Lanka in May. "This side has played extremely well away from home in recent years. We won in Sri Lanka, we won our first series last year in the West Indies and when we toured England in 1999 we won that series and the bulk of players from those teams are still together. We have a very good record in Asia recently.

"We have been working very hard on our ability to play spin by approaching it in a more methodical way and in the way we approach each bowler. There has been a real move forward in our batsmen. Stephen Fleming, Mark Richardson, Scott Styris, who was on his debut tour to Asia, and Jacob Oram, all had good scores in Sri Lanka and the batting of the side has come of age, and our spinners also showed out," he said.

Those players not involved in cricket in Europe were on individual programmes in New Zealand and working with Ross, medical co-ordinator Warren Frost and sport psychologist Gilbert Enoka. Ross was uncertain of where Shane Bond and Nathan Astle would be in their recovery programmes by the time the tour takes place. Bond is recovering from a stress fracture in his back while Astle is coming back after knee surgery.

With 250 days of cricket from the start of the Indian tour until the end of the England tour midway through next year it would be important to ensure the right decisions were made in regard to loadings on players, especially bowlers. Ross said that one of the benefits of the development work that has been undertaken by New Zealand Cricket was the depth of the player pool, and the coaching pool. And if Bond or Astle were unable to tour, there were players available with international experience who could be chosen.

There was a prospect that New Zealand could prepare for its tour by travelling to India earlier than intended, or by stopping off in northern Australia before travelling on to India. New Zealand would be looking to maintain its innovative preparation for the tour, a technique employed before the New Zealand development team tours to India to compete in the Buchi Babu tournament.

Indian conditions were simulated at New Zealand Cricket's High Performance Centre and had proved very effective in coping with the foreign conditions. "It is a tough and difficult environment in India and our training will be reflective of that," Ross said.