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Mark Richardson

Keeping the boss happy

New Zealand Cricket knows on which side their bread is buttered. Ergo, expect more favourable conditions for the Indian batsmen this time round

24-Feb-2009

The ever-changing weather plays a central role on a tour of New Zealand, but it is generally better behaved now, in late summer © Getty Images
 
When India last toured New Zealand, in December 2002, we stitched them up all right. They were known for their weakness in seamer-friendly conditions, and they got green ones to play on all right.
In the two Tests, the highest score India made was 161; in the second Test, in Hamilton, in the first innings both sides failed to make 100. New Zealand won the series 2-0. Things then didn't overly improve for India in the ODI series, which they lost 2-5.
You could argue that the weather had a major impact on producing green wickets, because pre-Christmas in New Zealand the climate is far from conducive to dry brown wickets; but it did not help India that the New Zealand administration's desire to produce wickets with pace and bounce meant grass, and lots of it, was left on the surface. All that conspired into a nightmare for anyone who didn't bowl. But hey, who cared: with a batting line-up that read Sehwag, Dravid, Tendulkar, Ganguly, Laxman it gave us Kiwis the best chance of winning... and we did.
Little did we know that the boss, Indian cricket, was not impressed, We had embarrassed this powerful cricket nation, and in particular what they were most proud of - their top six batsmen. They were dispatched and sent packing. They were laughed at, ridiculed, and their bravery brought into question.
That was six years ago and we have not seen them back until now, and so it comes as no surprise that recently comments have been made by the tourists about the difficulties this grass-loving country poses for a batsman, because all but one of the above batting greats are back for another crack.
However Messrs Tendulkar, Dravid and Co can rest easy this time round because I can almost guarantee conditions will be vastly different. Why? Well, because New Zealanders and New Zealand cricket understand who pays the wages nowadays and this tour for the Black Caps is very much the scenario of playing your boss at golf. You need to put up a good account for yourself if you want to get the desired invite again. However, if you are going to win you don't want to stuff him out of sight in some sort of perceived under-handed manner. If you do win, do so in a manner that allows the boss to retain some sort of dignity, and if you lose, make sure he felt the engagement worthy of his time. That way you may just get the invite to join the country club.
In cricket terms what New Zealand really need to achieve from this tour is a sense of goodwill towards New Zealand cricket from Indian cricket once the tour is over. That does not mean rolling over and dying, because fans of New Zealand cricket also like to win. However, this could be the last time New Zealand fans see these great batting names of Indian cricket on our shores, and both nations may feel cheated if seaming wickets nullify the Indian batting machine.
So the people under the most pressure may in fact be the ground staff. Nothing but perfect cricket conditions will suffice for this tour. In the ODIs we want conditions that provide for quality strokeplay, but ones that don't turn Iain O'Brien and Co into cannon fodder. In the Tests we need a session or two of movement, followed by a batsman-friendly period, and then some turn and variable bounce later on.
The good news is that this can be done with the application of a little work ethic. Also, over the last few years New Zealand wickets have improved out of sight, and the weather also generally plays ball in late summer, unlike in early summer - the part of the season India experienced last time.
So the red carpet, or more appropriately the brown, dry carpet, may be rolled out for our guests this time round, and fewer demons may be found in the Basin Reserve pitch; but that said, there are inherent challenges that Indian players must overcome in New Zealand.
 
 
In cricket terms what the Black Caps really need to achieve from this tour is a sense of goodwill towards New Zealand cricket from Indian cricket once the tour is over. That does not, however, mean rolling over and dying, because fans of New Zealand cricket also like to win
 
Whether or not the pitch has seam movement or not, most New Zealand surfaces bounce. It's not an Australian-type bounce but rather a tennis-ball-style bounce. The ball may only carry to the keeper at shin height, but as it passes the batsman it can be quite high, even when very full. Indian players who are used to being able to move into the ball and driving on the up will find that in New Zealand you must get much closer to the ball if you want to experience good timing. In defence, on the front foot they must get used to the ball hitting high on the bat.
New Zealand soils need grass to provide enough pace, and that grass also provides seam movement. If caution is taken by the ground staff, pitches could be slow. In India the ball often skids and that provides for good batting; in New Zealand the ball will hold up and that means patience and batting accuracy become paramount.
It's not just the surface you must get your head around in New Zealand. Stoppages and shortened games become a challenge too. March and April may be the best summer months, but in a narrow country bordered on both sides by ocean you can expect very changeable weather. You must be able to deal with starting and restarting games at will and adapting to the differing situations that scenario brings.
You can expect a lot of wind too. All venues in New Zealand can get windy, let alone Wellington, which on most days blows a gale. It ruins the bowling rhythm, makes your eyes water, chills you to the bone, affects you balance and back-lift, and most of all is exhausting. You must have strategies, preferably developed through experience, to deal with the wind in New Zealand.
Wind and a bit of chill also leads to old, and even young, bones getting a little stiff. It can take a bit of extra time to get the body loosened up and moving early in an innings or bowling spell. For those used to starting warm and loose, special attention needs to be taken to ensure stiffness does not result in sloppiness.
New Zealand is not that dissimilar to England, but it is most certainly not the subcontinent, and thus takes a bit of getting used to as far as the Indians are concerned. However, the only advantage in terms of assistance the New Zealand bowlers may get this time round against a touring Indian side may simply be an initial psychological one, based on the mental scarring from the last time the Indian players toured, and stories of horror told to the new guys in the squad.

Former New Zealand opener Mark Richardson is now a television commentator and cricket columnist