Bullish India shed 'conventional' methods
India are on a rampage. Not only are they making a mockery of jinxes that have haunted their cricket for long, they are also breaking long-standing traditions. There aren't many at this point who can argue with them. Virender Sehwag had questioned the utility of a tour game in the country that has caused India so much grief and now MS Dhoni has defied the logic that dictates that a team should reach the venue of a Test match at least two days in advance.
So when the Hamilton Test finished a day early, the Indian team packed off to Auckland - which is more cosmopolitan and more happening - enjoyed its rest there, practised hard for a day and then made it to Napier about 18 hours before the toss. That would have been scandalous in an earlier era or even with many current teams that are very particular about preparations at the actual venue. Not anymore. Not for this victorious Indian side. Teams anyway don't get to train at the McLean Park, they have to use the adjacent Nelson Park. How different can it be from Eden Park?
They could afford to take it easy simply because they have a largely settled team. Ten of them selected themselves going into the series opener and now Munaf Patel has added his name to the list. India had a gruelling session in Auckland and another in Napier. The game and preparation have been broken down to the bare essentials.
"The day before the game, we'll practice, one good hard session, and we're ready for the game," Dhoni said. "Whatever suits the team."
Dhoni took it a step further. "Mentally we are right there. When it comes to the mind it depends on what you're feeding into the mind. The mind doesn't know if it's Napier or what you're feeding. You come and say 'this is Napier', and it believes it's Napier. If you see, it's an abstract. When people say 'he's in form', nobody has seen form. It's a state of mind where you are confident and you think very positively and everything you think about, you think it's very achievable. It's about how you treat the mind. One day here, one day there doesn't really make a difference. Preparation-wise, we are up to the mark."
This will look arrogant to the traditionalists. It also seems a bit strange when the captain comes to discuss a Test match without even taking a look at the pitch. But it is not criminal as long as they win cleanly and with grace.
They did so in Hamilton, stylishly and easily, enough to raise hopes for a first series win in New Zealand since 1967-68. The sense of history will tell them they are in with more than a realistic chance to achieve what was till now regarded as fanciful. Only twice has a visiting Indian side gone into the final Test with the series in the bag. Only twice has it won back-to-back Tests in an overseas series, not counting Zimbabwe and Bangladesh. India also sense a first whitewash. The last time they came close in an overseas series was in 1986 against England.
That said, India will also know they will seem incredibly stupid if they let history come back to haunt them. They wouldn't want to breach the line that separates confidence from arrogance. Of the last five times India have taken a lead in an overseas Test series, they have won only twice, not counting Bangladesh and Zimbabwe.
But the past, Dhoni said, doesn't matter much to them, much like the traditions which they don't find relevant. "We think more about the small steps rather than having a long look at what we want to achieve. If you look too far ahead, you get a bit relaxed or maybe you don't care about those small things that really matter in achieving the big milestone. We think about series and we break the series into games. And every game is a different game and we start from scratch. So we always think about the small steps."
The next small step is from Nelson Park to McLean Park. And Dhoni promises that India are prepared.
Sidharth Monga is a staff writer at Cricinfo