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Cricket fans demonstrate their loyalty despite lack of pure contests

Lessons from the National Bank Series between New Zealand and India don't really concern the quality of cricket, but the attitude of cricket followers in this country.

New Zealand Cricket had cause to wonder when India performed so poorly in the Test series and then succumbed to a 4-0 margin to lose the one-day series with three games still to play whether they were on the verge of a disaster in terms of crowd appeal.

But in a way that has not been seen in recent times, the paying public kept turning out. There were 20,000 at the dead match in Auckland, and a full-house crowd of more than 6000 in Hamilton today.

New Zealanders do enjoy winners after all.

And even the fact that seven One-Day Internationals have been played doesn't seem to have dulled the appetite for cricket.

It does show how far this New Zealand team has come when it can play well below its potential yet still quell one of the more impressive batting armouries in the world game and win the support of the home public.

Much has been made of the problems the Indians have had in dealing with the excessive sideways movement of New Zealand's pitches. But the New Zealanders also struggled.

To bat as poorly as New Zealand has and still come out with such a commanding degree of authority in the two series, says something for the growth of confidence in the home side.

They have learned how to win and are repeating the home series dominance the great side of the 1980s managed.

Indian captain Sourav Ganguly has been quite right to say that there was little between the sides in terms of the results, but the difference has been that New Zealand have been able to rely on the notion of team, a principle that applies to most New Zealand sports teams far more than for any of its opponents.

The notion of grafting for success is not lost on Kiwis who, more than most, have to get the best out of inadequate resources of manpower and talent.

In having bowlers like Daryl Tuffey and Jacob Oram in the Test matches, and Kyle Mills in the ODIs, who are able to provide outstanding support for speed merchant Shane Bond, skipper Stephen Fleming has been able to dominate in a way that must have surprised the Indians.

Their own attack in the Tests lacked the sustained accuracy and guile that Javagal Srinath brought to the one-day series. Given India's inability to bat in such conditions, it should be no surprise that they also struggled to bowl purposefully in them.

There did seem to be a notion grow that New Zealand were better used to the conditions. This was an erroneous view, as the conditions, in their extremes, were also foreign to the home side. New Zealand batsmen are only getting used to the greater bounce in pitches after a season or two of development in this area. Having to deal with sideways movement is an extra encumbrance.

The most classic example of how to cope under the circumstances belonged to Mark Richardson in the first Test at the Basin Reserve. His application and sheer doggedness, driven by the lack of international opportunity he was to have this summer, was perhaps the best demonstration of the season.

Aspects of development were obvious: the advance of Oram as a genuine Test player, the growth in Tuffey's confidence, the solidity offered by the developing Scott Styris in the middle-order, the sight of Lou Vincent using his speed between the wickets as an attacking weapon with his demonstration in Napier, and his partnership with Styris in the second Auckland ODI as the most classic examples, and the advance of wicket-keeper Brendon McCullum.

When their qualities are added to a return to peak form of Fleming, Craig McMillan, Nathan Astle and Chris Cairns, allied to greater employment of spinner Daniel Vettori, it offers genuine hope of even greater achievements by the New Zealanders.

Fleming was the highest scoring of the New Zealand batsmen with 157 runs at 26.16. Others over 100 runs for the series were: Mathew Sinclair 146 at 24.33, Astle 123 at 24.60 and Vincent 120 at 40.00.

India have different problems, although they have said all along that on the pitches in South Africa, they will quickly regain their best touches.

Admittedly, that has to be a real prospect, although it will take some time to get over the mental looseness that saw them so often succumb to the moving ball. The last time they were here it was the swinging ball at the Basin Reserve that did them, but this time it was the cut of the ball off the pitch. Either vulnerability has to be a concern.

Rahul Dravid offered glimpses of the class that made him such an exciting figure on the last tour of this country, but Sachin Tendulkar was a disappointment.

Virender Sehwag did get to demonstrate his talent with two marvellous centuries in the one-day series. He was easily the most prolific of the batsmen. He scored 299 runs while the next highest Indian was Yuvraj Singh with 134, but at an average of only 19.14. Rahul Dravid was the only other Indian to pass three figures with 116 at 16.57.

But generally, India's lack of application was both a revelation and a disappointment. If their techniques were as good as their records say then more of them should have been capable of adaptation.

Srinath was the best bowler on display in both sides. He used his experience brilliantly and finished with most wickets 18 at 11.16. Andre Adams was the best of the New Zealanders with 14 at 9.35. He might wait a long time to do better in a series.

Tuffey was right behind him with 12 at 18.08.

Fleming was quite right to claim satisfaction from having won a war of attrition.

Turf managers can expect to come under greater scrutiny in the aftermath of this summer. Next season, New Zealand are to host Pakistan and South Africa, two huge opponents, and pitch quality will need to be significantly better.

New Zealand will have had a tour to India in the early season, so they should be much better prepared for the summer than was the case this year. They deserve to have those pitches with pace and bounce that Fleming has been advocating, but less of the sideways movement.

And does it really matter if the outfields of grounds are not pristine green in order to present the picture perfect view on television. No batsman is going to complain if a drier outfield gives him better value for his strokeplay.

The groundsmen have talked a good game this year but they haven't delivered.

New Zealand did win everything but two one-dayers in the summer and that is significant. The side showed resolve and penetration.

It has set the scene for a prolific World Cup, the hope has to be that those good conditions they are wanting in South Africa will do the business and light the spark that is ready to fire up in the side.