New Zealand's preparations for their tour of India included practising on custom-made dirt pitches, having music blasted through earphones as they batted, and hiring people to shout abuse and rattle the sides of the nets. The Kiwis, who had risen to third in the ICC Test Championship, were desperate to consolidate their position with a strong performance on the subcontinent, a region in which they had previously struggled to be competitive.
Bolstered by the memory of their first series win in the West Indies a year earlier, New Zealand were talking up their chances of creating history by winning in India for the first time too, particularly after performing strongly in Sri Lanka five months earlier. But they had to do without the cutting edge of the raw pace bowler Shane Bond, who was suffering from a stress fracture of the back, and this was a major setback.
For India, the series was billed as a chance to exact revenge on the New Zealanders, who had prepared unplayable greentops in the previous summer's series in a move designed to nullify the Indians' batting strength. As it happened, the pitches for both Tests were more durable than most Indian roads, and neither India at Ahmedabad nor New Zealand at Mohali could capitalise on their hard-earned advantage to deliver a telling blow.
There were, however, pluses for both sides. New Zealand had arrived in India with question marks hanging over both their opening combination and middle order but, by the time the series was over, Lou Vincent had reestablished his place beside Mark Richardson at the top of the order. The tour was a triumph for Vincent who, having been dropped for the previous series against Sri Lanka, had worked hard on his mental approach and emerged as a more patient, composed and effective batsman.
The same could be said of Craig McMillan, who bounced back from six months in the wilderness to score back-to-back half-centuries at Ahmedabad and a fighting unbeaten century in the Second Test.
It was generally an encouraging tour for New Zealand's caretaker coach, Ashley Ross, standing in ahead of John Bracewell's arrival. There were noticeable technical improvements, too. Daniel Vettori's new batting stance gave him a far better balance, possibly opening the door for him to bat at No. 7. New Zealand's bowling was also a revelation, especially the effort of Daryl Tuffey - who had previously struggled overseas - at Mohali, where he brought back memories of old-fashioned English seamers like Chris Old and Mike Hendrick.
India were undoubtedly frustrated at being unable to break through and land the vital blow at Ahmedabad, but they could at least reflect on some top-class batting from the usual suspects. But it was the exception to this rule who really caught the eye: Sachin Tendulkar scored just 71 runs in the two Tests.
Match reports for
Indian Board President's XI v New Zealanders at Visakhapatnam, Sep 26-28, 2003
India A v New Zealanders at Rajkot, Oct 2-4, 2003