Two weeks ago New Zealand were facing the pace barrage of Dale Steyn, Vernon Philander and Kagiso Rabada in South Africa's off-season. A short stop at home later, they are in Delhi, during India's off-season, preparing for what promises to be a challenging Test series on India's raging turners. It is so early in the season that even the pre-season fumigation in the press-conference room - Delhi is fighting an outbreak of mosquito-infested diseases - was carried out only minutes before New Zealand arrived.
All New Zealand have between landing in India and the Test series, to prepare for what has the makings of the biggest challenge in Test cricket today, are a couple of training sessions in Delhi, a three-day game against Mumbai that begins on Friday, and two more training sessions at the venue of the first Test.
India are not going to do them any favours either. Not that New Zealand expected any. They didn't expect the track for the three-day game to prepare them for what is in store, and Feroz Shah Kotla is certainly in no mood to surprise them pleasantly. The track for the match against Mumbai, which won't be a first-class fixture and will thus let all 15 have a bat and a bowl, is not quite a greentop but looks nothing like what you will encounter at Indian Test venues.
"It is what we expected to see here," Ross Taylor said of the grass on the Kotla pitch. This is consistent with what Virat Kohli felt when India gave England barely any spin to face in their warm-up matches before the Tests in 2012-13.
"We were given flattest of tracks during practice matches in England and Australia, and then suddenly presented with a greentop during the Tests," Kohli had said back then. "During practice matches, we would face those 120kmph bowlers … If they [England and Australia] wanted to be fair to us, they could have provided us with same kind of tracks for practice matches, like what were used in Tests. Especially, when they knew that visiting teams get very less time to practise. Now they would be playing on turning tracks and definitely would know where they stand."
England played three warm-up matches before the Tests on that tour, but only once, against Haryana, did they get to face genuine spinners. In the other two games, the only spin they faced was delivered by part-timers. New Zealand, having seen the pitch at the Kotla, didn't look in a mood to complain. "We are expecting the wickets to turn," Taylor said at the press conference a day before the warm-up game. "We are not expecting the Test wickets to look the way it is looking at Kotla."
For New Zealand the warm-up game is more about getting used to the weather, with temperatures in the mid-30s when it is winter back home. "A warm-up game is a warm-up game," Taylor said. "A chance to get out and play in Indian conditions. Obviously a lot warmer than a couple of days ago back home in New Zealand. Stretch your legs so to speak. We are expecting a tough match against Mumbai tomorrow."
Before the reversal in South Africa, New Zealand were the side expected to present the toughest challenge to the hosts in this season of 13 Tests. They still possibly have the best spin resources among the touring teams this season. But the scheduling of the series relegates them to being a bit of a sideshow. They are used to this. When they go to England, they play in May; their last tour to India was in August-September, and this year they are playing back-to-back Test series in off-seasons. It is a fact not lost on them.
"The last two tours we had here we didn't even have a warm-up game," Taylor said. "So it's nice to have a warm-up game against a good opposition. It's going to be a hard-fought series over the next three weeks. The boys are looking forward to it."
If the warm-up game is just a means to acclimatise yourselves to the heat and if you are expected to adjust from South African conditions to Indian ones suddenly, how do you do it? In the nets, Taylor said. "Regardless of whether you are playing on a bouncy green wicket or on a turning wicket, you have got to put yourself under pressure in training and try to simulate as much as possible."
Accordingly, one of the members of New Zealand's support staff was seen asking the groundsmen to shave off the grass on the nets pitches. The next three days are not just about what goes on in the middle at the Feroz Shah Kotla, but also about how much the ones not on the field can take away from their nets sessions.