Star-struck NZ gear up for big summer
Two days before the first Twenty20 international, New Zealand assembled for what is perhaps their most important summer - or what passes off as summer in these parts - of cricket in recent times. And already they sound in awe of playing what they reckon to be the best side in the world across all forms in a series that will earn New Zealand cricket almost as much money in 45 days from TV rights as rugby, the No. 1 sport by a long margin, does in a year. Listening to coach Andy Moles and batting mainstay Ross Taylor might make the series sound a like hopeless mismatch but they know it will take India time to adjust to conditions and that will be the chance to hurt them.
New Zealand also carry some confidence having pushed Australia to the limit in the Chappell-Hadlee Series in Australia but Moles conceded they missed a trick there. "Having gone 2-0 up in Australia, the feeling in the camp was pretty good," Moles said. "We probably just stood back a little bit, and waited for the Australians to give us an opportunity to win the game. We need to be proactive and go out and win the games against the Indians, who are probably the No. 1 side in the world."
And not merely in the limited-overs game. "I think all facets," Moles said. "You look at the last 18 months; they have gone around the world, and at home, they have played really good cricket."
Taylor mirrored Moles' sentiment. "Over the last 12-18 months, they have been consistent, they have beaten Australia, and things like that. Definitely they are the world's best team at the moment. It's exciting for us to play against them to see where we are at on our home turf, and hopefully have some success and show the New Zealand public a good series."
The sense of being overawed stems from their lack of experience. Sachin Tendulkar alone has scored 3263 more Test runs than the combined New Zealand Test side. And the respect and sense of awe show. "I grew up watching them," Taylor said. "As a youngster Tendulkar was someone I looked up to. When you play at this level you probably want to put all that aside. Some of these players will be a bit star-struck, but come match day they will be fine."
The money pouring in adds to the hype. NZC will rake in approximately NZ$25 million from TV rights for the tour while rugby, the national obsession, gets them around $34.8million. "I knew the figures were being bandied around, but that doesn't really play on my mind," Taylor said. "First and foremost you have your own personal standards to try and attain. Obviously that's doing well for yourself and your country. So if you do well, all the money and the rest takes care of itself."
But New Zealand also know they will be playing in conditions they know much better than their opposition, who don't have history on their side. "Certainly in the past the Indian teams haven't toured too well," Moles said. "But they put a lot of that to bed over the last couple of years. From our point of view we are really proud to play at home. We like to defend our ground, we will look to put India under pressure when we can and hope to expose the weaknesses they have."
Taylor said while the conditions would lend some evenness to the contest, India would do much better than last time round. "I think a lot of people made a lot of it the last time they were out here," he said. "The wickets have improved a lot since then. I don't think India need to worry a lot about green seaming wickets. I am sure over the next month or so Indians will see how the conditions have changed."
The day was rainy and windy and India opted for indoor nets but, looking at the way the New Zealand public and the team have responded to India, it hardly seems they are away from home. After two days of fanfare around India's practice, New Zealand practised without many watching on. Moles and Taylor drove the luggage truck to the ground themselves. And Moles knows it's Taylor and the other seniors who will have to drive New Zealand in this summer of expectations. "The seniors need to step up. And they are aware. They are seeing it as a fantastic opportunity to show their ways as well. For us to perform well, we need our senior players to play well."
Sidharth Monga is a staff writer at Cricinfo