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New Zealand 'positive' about Williamson's return

By the time the New Zealand team arrived at the Holkar Stadium for an optional training session at around 10am, about 500 people were already in the stands. They cheered Kane Williamson, the New Zealand captain who had missed the last Test because of illness, on. They were happy Williamson was batting in the nets. If Williamson played a good shot or raised his bat to them, they clapped. If he missed, they ooh-ed and aah-ed. By the time the Indian team arrived in the afternoon this number had swollen to about 4000. Mostly students, they queued up patiently outside the ground, and proved to be no hindrance to the preparation of either the teams or the ground staff once they got in. They sat patiently in the stands and watched.

The Holkar Stadium apparently has a tradition to let the fans enter the ground for even the practice sessions. This is a luxury in India. Other stadiums generally consider the fans an inconvenience; going by the BCCI ticketing practices these grounds would rather look after only the broadcasters and the VIPs, who are given complimentary passes. On a day when the old guard of the BCCI was fighting for its existence in the Supreme Court, a ground that was gearing up for its Test debut was showing the way.

Out in the middle, preparations went on regardless. Williamson batting in the nets, and having a bit of a bowl was good news for New Zealand. "It's looking positive," Shane Jurgensen, New Zealand's bowling coach, said. "Final confirmation on that will probably be tomorrow. We trained today, and he did some batting and had a decent hit and a run around. We'll have another look at him tomorrow, but it looks positive."

India welcomed a senior face as well. Gautam Gambhir, who last played for India in 2014, was the first one to pad up for India. India's batting coach Sanjay Bangar empathised with Gambhir's situation; he gets one Test, and it is quite possible he is usurped by both the injured openers by the time England come. Bangar, however, refused to rule him out for the rest of the season. "Gautam Gambhir is a quality player; what he has done really for himself, for the time he was out of the Indian team he kept on performing for his franchise and state side," Bangar said. "When he got an opportunity in the Duleep Trophy, he was one of the top scorers there. That too against the pink ball, which certain batsmen found was difficult to pick. Yes, he ticked all boxes. Untimely injury to KL Rahul Shikhar Dhawan made sure that there is a place for him. He is something of a quality performer. Proven record against spin bowling. And the number of Test matches we are going to play in India, he becomes an important player right at the top of the order."

Gambhir has come back with runs in Duleep Trophy, and with an open stance, at least half the way to what Shivnarine Chanderpaul had. Gambhir has worked on it with Justin Langer and Langer's personal coach Neil Holder. The need of the hour, though, might be a change for the New Zealand spinners to work on. Their batsmen have shown a lot of discipline to make India's bowlers work hard, a fact R Ashwin has acknowledged in his interview with bcci.tv, but they have been undone by natural variation for the India bowlers. India exploit it more because their spinners bowl with the seam parallel to the ground whereas the New Zealand spinners - like others who visit Asia - bowl with the seam pointing to fine leg at 45 degrees.

"It was certainly something we were working on before we came to India," Jurgensen said. "It doesn't come as naturally, we bowl a different way where we come from. But the boys have been working on it to get that natural variation. Every game we've improved."

It was refreshing to see the talk return to seam positions and India's mindset of not even thinking of losing in crunch situations, thus, according to Bangar, being clear in their minds. It must not be easy for the players from either side to be clear in these times. India's players are used to answering to the BCCI even though the money in cricket is public's and generated because of them. They must be wondering what lies ahead. New Zealand's players must be aware the BCCI is capable of carrying through with its threats of pulling out of a series, and would have spent the two days after the Kolkata Test in limbo. There was no information from their hosts, the BCCI.

Once again, though, if the practice sessions and the response two days before Indore's debut Test are anything to go by, on the field it is almost certain to be business as usual.