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They may not have a Test win in New Zealand since 1976 but India are focused on winning the series instead of worrying about past performances
Sidharth Monga in Hamilton
March 17, 2009
The ODI series win will have changed a few notions inside the Indian camp. Some of the players who hadn't been here before, including the captain, will be wondering what the fuss about New Zealand was about. Twenty-seven days into this tour, the previous tour already sounds like fiction.
Others who have been here before have only the freakish conditions in 2002-03 as explanation for not having won a Test. Sachin Tendulkar, for example, has played eight Tests in New Zealand and hasn't been on the winning side even once. He will know, given the team's form and the conditions this time around, that this series represents his best chance - and most likely his last. So too for Rahul Dravid and VVS Laxman.
Then there's the middle group, the likes of Virender Sehwag, Zaheer Khan and Harbhajan Singh, whose only experience of Tests in New Zealand are those losses in 2002-03. But all three are strong characters, capable of putting past failures well behind them. Sehwag has made a living out of forgetting the previous ball he has faced.
A lot will depend on how successfully India ignore history. Of late, this team has made a mockery of history and reputation. They were supposed to be the worst of the big teams at the World Twenty20, they were supposed to lose easily in the ODIs in Australia, they were not supposed to win a Test there.
Ask Mahendra Singh Dhoni if past record matters to this team and he says: "We hadn't won a one-day series [in New Zealand] either." This time they cruised through the series, just missing out on a clean sweep.
"I am not bothered about whether we have won here or not," Dhoni said. "I am just bothered about the things we need to do over here as a team. We are not thinking about what happened in the past. I am not great when it comes to stats, so that really helps."
Fast forward to the present, and what India need to do here as a team. They have almost everything sorted out going into the first Test. They couldn't have asked for a better team, with 10 players picking themselves. All they would have hoped for is a third pace bowler who they can repose their faith in. Munaf Patel is not that bowler as of now. L Balaji, on his comeback, is too untested to be that man.
Dhoni made clear that Munaf's poor outings in the ODIs would not be held against him. "You know he is a much better bowler than what he did in the one-dayers," Dhoni said. In two ODIs Munaf bowled 9.3 overs for 93 runs for no wickets. "Often he bowled as one-change seamer, and wickets were quite placid. We had big scores, and most of the times New Zealand got off to a good start, which meant basically the batsmen targeted the third seamer. It's always tough to judge on the basis of one-day especially.
"We will see who the best bowler is and who is bowling better right now, and accordingly we will pick the third seamer." Munaf, though, has bowled fewer overs than Zaheer Khan, Ishant Sharma and L Balaji in the nets over the last couple of days.
India will fix that quandary on Wednesday morning. Another historical blip they need to fix is the first-Test blues while touring. Even on their two most recent tours, first Test losses to Australia and Sri Lanka set the tone for series defeats. India cannot afford a slow start here. If they suffer one here, that coupled with their past record in New Zealand, could weigh heavily on the rest of the series.
That said, India have the right mix, the conditions are good and this is not the toughest New Zealand side they have faced. They have players to whom history means nothing, players who have suffered and have lessons to share, and they have players who are very good at putting the past behind them. From tomorrow, they will look to set right what they believe is an aberration.
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