India get first taste of windy conditions
Pragyan Ojha stood at the boundary of the Cricket Field adjoining the Bert Sutcliffe Oval, Venkatesh Prasad hit a skier towards him, which Ojha comfortably got under. But then the wind carried it over the picket fence. Ojha looked towards Prasad, Prasad looked towards Ojha.
The wind carried the message fast enough. They had heard of it, some of them - like Prasad - had experienced it, but now everyone had come face to face with the famous New Zealand winds. Then Prasad shouted, "You should have tried still." This training session was India's first tryst with the windy conditions on an otherwise perfect day - sunny and mildly warm.
The session was an ideal one for the Indian players who have rarely played in such conditions, especially the ones in the limited-overs sides. India had to move to the adjoining ground because there was a two-day game on between the England Lions and Emerging New Zealand Players.
The game plan for Gary Kirsten today was straightforward. It started with simple running that went on for about an hour and a half. Endurance can be a problem in cold and windy conditions, and all the players were put to a stern test on that count.
During the fielding practice that followed, the fielders struggled to judge the carry on the ball, often running in too much. At least they now can be mindful of the wind before they enter match situation. Following the fielding the batsmen were divided into groups - one batted in the nets and the other went for the open-wicket practice. Virender Sehwag looked tired, and requested Kirsten to put him in the group that would go in later.
During the open-wicket practice came another aspect, which was perhaps more important, that of bowling into the wind. All the Indian bowlers made use of that. The batsmen practised against Prasad, Robin Singh, local bowlers, a bowling machine and even Paddy Upton. Praveen Kumar was surprised by a return catch from Rohit Sharma, which came back too fast to him. He was hit on the elbow in the follow-through, but it didn't cause too much damage, and Praveen was fit to bat later in the day.
However it is too early identify which of the bowlers would be better off bowling into the wind. "You would have noticed today we practised with all the bowlers into the wind," Kirsten said. "What we said was that every bowlers has got to do the hard yards some day. It's not easy, but we have to be prepared for that. It's about just adapting to the situation.
"You just don't turn up at 10am and win a game just because you are a better side on the paper. Someone's got to work hard out there. This team's very aware of that. Everyone wants to be a game-breaker."
They have been practising hard to come to terms with alien conditions, but India are staying away from discussing them too much when off the field. "We stay away from too much talk. Talk is dangerous," Kirsten said. "What we do is, come into the nets and spend time there. We had nearly a four-and-a-half hours session yesterday, and another four-hour session today.
"What we are focused on, is to make sure that the guys are ready when they are needed to be. It might take a bit of time during match play. Senior players who have been here pass on the information that they need, we pass the information too, but it's the players who have got to do the job."
Kirsten could well be the right man to pass on the information about New Zealand. In the seven Tests he played here, he averaged 58.70, as opposed to his overall average of 45.27, and managed two centuries. The second of his centuries in New Zealand came more than a year after India's disastrous tour in 2002-03.
"The last tour was six-seven years ago," Kirsten said. "We don't focus on the past, we are worried about what happens ahead. We certainly haven't had team meetings talking about what happened here six-seven years ago. We have played 17 games of cricket since September last year, and lost one. So we are very happy with our performance.
"This team doesn't focus on performance, but what we need to do on a daily basis. We believe that if we prepare and plan well, we give ourselves the best chance of a win. But we also know that the game is designed such that at anytime you can have a bad hour or two. We are very humble around that fact."
Kirsten was not bothered about the nature of the pitches, confident in the quality of his pace attack. "Everyone is talking about the wickets. It's not something that concerns our minds too much. We are well planned for any conditions, our team is well balanced. Our seamers have had a particularly good year, and we are not concerned too much about the conditions."
Sidharth Monga is a staff writer at Cricinfo