New ball New Zealand's best bet, says Wright
John Wright, who coached India from 2000 to 2005, believes the biggest difference between the current side and the one he brought to New Zealand in 2003 is the potency and stability of the bowling attack. Wright, a former New Zealand captain, said India would still harbour memories of their last tour here and that their top order, though formidable, could still be susceptible against the moving ball.
Since they have paired up, Ishant Sharma and Zaheer Khan have become a force in different conditions and Wright pinpointed India's spearheads as key. "India must be very excited about his [Ishant Sharma's] potential," he said. "We've only really seen him bowling in subcontinental or Australian conditions, where it's pretty hard work for the pacemen. You'd expect once he gets to a place like New Zealand or England, where the conditions favour the seamers more, he'll be at least as influential again.
"Zaheer has really matured, he has really come of age," said Wright. "He had a spell of county cricket with Worcester and just did lots of bowling and that did him a lot of good. He hasn't really looked back since then."
According to Wright, New Zealand's best shot was to probe India's top order with the new ball. "If you can get early wickets, then it will be interesting. It is probably the same with most sides that come here, but they [India] won't have forgotten the last experience here," he said. "Sometimes those ghosts are hard to hide, so the key is putting them under pressure early and just bowling in a very tight area."
In 2002-03, India failed to go past 200 in either Test and lost the series 2-0. It was no different in the one-dayers which followed, as India were comprehensively beaten 5-2. Wright looked back at that tour and felt this time around India would feel far more comfortable about the standard of pitches.
"They'll be interested to see the first pitch. My recollection from last time was there were extreme conditions and probably not the best for watching, so let's hope there is a bit more even balance because they are the most exciting batting line-up to watch," he said. "The tour before, their batters did well and [Rahul] Dravid got a couple of hundreds at Hamilton, so he will have good memories of that. You've got a bloke like [Virender] Sehwag when he's on, it doesn't matter what the wicket is like."
In his role as New Zealand selector, Wright said he had "a few ideas" of how to help the home team. "I'm on the other side now and that may be helpful," he said. "I have a few ideas but it always boils down to what happens on the park, the accuracy and quality of the cricket our blokes play. They've [India] not won [a series] here for 41 years and they'll definitely want to put that right but I don't think they're thinking about settling old scores."
India begin their tour on February 25 with the first of two Twenty20 internationals. They also play five ODIs and three Tests.