New Zealand ready to go for broke
It's not too much of a surprise that New Zealand are prepared to risk going down 2-0 in an attempt to level the series at Wellington. "It's not a line of thinking [risking a 2-0 loss for a win here]. I always think along, but we realise a 1-1 result in the series would be a great result for us, so I think we have to take any opportunity that we have to win the Test match," New Zealand captain Daniel Vettori said. "If that means putting ourselves under pressure with a loss, yeah we'll definitely go down that road."
The groundsmen in New Zealand, though, don't seem to be playing ball. The dry, brown pitch at the Basin Reserve had the Indians feeling warm even as the winter approaches in Wellington. You don't want to leave a visiting captain pleasantly surprised when he first looks at a Test pitch, as MS Dhoni was. He said he was expecting to get a glimpse of what the Indians encountered earlier in 2002-03, but this one looks good for batting. It is the sort of surprise that Graeme Smith encountered last year in Ahmedabad, when a seaming, bouncy pitch welcomed Makhaya Ntini, Dale Steyn and Morne Morkel.
Vettori hasn't been looking for a pitch that would remind spectators of the 2002-03 tour, but the team have wanted something that looks like the one used at Auckland, which wasn't an unplayable surface. Coming here, though, he hasn't even got the usual Basin Reserve track.
"You normally expect the Basin wicket to have a bit in it, it settles down, days two and three are pretty good batting days and then there's some inconsistent bounce later on," Vettori said. "It doesn't really turn here. That's why there were expectations that this might suit us. We have to wait and see."
The pitch's being devoid of grass could have to do with the timing of the Test - in April. Brett Sipthorpe, the groundsman at the Basin Reserve, said sometimes the captain asks for something that "probably can't be done at this time of the year".
"We get asked about what we want from a wicket but it is still the groundsman's prerogative to produce the wicket that he wants to," Sipthorpe said.
All said and done, it is pretty clear that in a must-win game, New Zealand haven't - on the face of it - been able to use home advantage. All conditions won't favour India, though. There is one factor that New Zealand can bank on - overcast skies and the breeze, purely because they are more used to it.
Vettori knows better than to worry too much about the conditions. In what has been a long season that started in Bangladesh, New Zealand haven't been able to string together consistently good performances. When they took a 2-0 lead in the ODIs in Australia, they lost the next two; while they beat India in two Twenty20s, they went on to lose the next three ODIs; when they won comprehensively in Auckland, they were poor in the Hamilton Test.
There have been problems in sustaining good performances over a considerable period of time. "The inconsistency of us as a Test side has already been seen in this series, so we have to address that and talk about it," Vettori said. "I'll just keep asking the guys the same things I asked them before the Napier Test match, which is doing things for longer. If I can see more of that [as in Napier] I'll be pleased, but there'll probably be a few times during the Test match when we'll have to push a little but harder and take some chances."
The most abiding memory of the season for New Zealand will the near-miss in the ODIs against Australia. If they can overcome India, the No. 3 Test side in the world, those memories could be forgotten.
Sidharth Monga is a staff writer at Cricinfo