Jumping at shadows, as in avoid doing it. On successive days, New Zealand coach Mike Hesson and captain Kane Williamson have used the same exact words. Don't manufacture trouble. Play the ball, not the pitch. Teams are quite aware of this when they come to India, but once one turns sharply away and another goes straight on - sometimes with even the bowler not knowing how - the shadows of close-in fielders and the ferocious appeals can all get to you. The heat and the noise can leave you delirious; even those who have played on these pitches all their lives can struggle. New Zealand have only had four training sessions and a three-day warm-up game, at a completely different venue.
Adapting, quick thinking, communication, competitiveness and taking matches deep would be key, according to New Zealand's captain and coach. "You certainly don't want to jump at shadows," Williamson said when asked if all the talk around the pitches can cloud the team's thinking. "You do want to go into the matches as educated as you can be to try and apply your plans. That's where it is important for experience among players to come into it. Bowlers, batters to adjust quickly. You do learn a lot in the first hour of a Test match. It's important you adapt quickly in those conditions to get the best out of them."
The test of this resolve would come when New Zealand lose their first wicket to extraordinary bounce or turn. What it would do to the batsman walking out and the others getting ready for their turn could define this series. Tests in India unravel at a frightening pace; it can be all over before you even know what happened. So reading conditions well, and reacting to them quickly and calmly is vital, especially for New Zealand, who do not have much local experience to draw from. Their work in the World T20 was excellent, but they know this is different. Having done well once, though, gave them confidence.
"India have got very good spinners, naturally very experienced in these conditions," Williamson said. "We have got some exciting young talent. We showed that in the T20 World Cup. That was huge for us. Yes the formats are different, but I am hoping we can build on from those experiences. A lot of learning experiences to be had. Certainly this is one of them, being exposed in these conditions. They are suited to spin bowling so we are hoping they can play a big part in the series."
Williamson hoped to learn from the Indian batsmen and said New Zealand would not be relying on the sweep as their only option to upset spinners. "It's up to the individuals, some guys sweep more than the others," he said. "Another thing is that you tend to come to an overseas tour and often the overseas players are so used to their own conditions that you can learn a lot off them [opposition]. And I suppose sweeping isn't a big part of the Indian players' batting. They have got great footwork, they get forward, they get back, they come down the wicket. So you can learn a lot from how they play spin but at the end of the day it's up to individual players."
From a bowling point of view, New Zealand have Ish Sodhi's legspin, Mitchell Santner's left-arm spin and Mark Craig's offspin to choose from. Provided they do well, Williamson felt the Kanpur surface was such that India could certainly be put under pressure. "They have played in these tough conditions for a while," he said. "I suppose they are tough for both teams, though. It's important we adapt quickly and if we do and play positively then it's one of those things that we have to wait and see how it unfolds, because some of the wickets that have been prepared in the recent series have certainly been tough for both the sides."
Reverse swing was the other weapon New Zealand were relying on. "Coming into it, certainly watching previous series here, without much grass on the block, obviously the ball I suppose deteriorates quite quickly and reverse swing and spin become factors," Williamson said. "So we will be expecting it to reverse, who knows when, but something that both teams I am sure will be looking at. We are hoping that brings the seamers into it."
New Zealand are likely to play all three spinners and two quicks, which would leave wicketkeeper BJ Watling as the sixth batsman. Martin Guptill is likely to hold on to his place, but both he and Henry Nicholls are under pressure after Luke Ronchi's enterprising hundred in the warm-up game.