Captain MS Dhoni (R) gestures as teammates Zaheer Khan and Ishant Sharma watch during a training session at the Rajiv Gandhi International cricket stadium in Hyderabad. AFP/Noah Seelam
MS Dhoni may have been at the receiving end of VVS Laxman, who said the skipper was incommunicado when he tried to get in touch with him before calling time on his remarkable career. But that was four days earlier. On Wednesday, Dhoni made it crystal clear what he thought of the struggling New Zealand on the eve of the first Test.
The contrast was evident as the two captains walked in for the press conference. Dhoni, in a cut sleeve practice shirt, had a more assured gait. He gave precise answers and at times sounded condescending when asked about the challenge New Zealand can come up with.
A lone Kiwi journalist, a Radio New Zealand broadcaster, asked Dhoni about his opponents and how they gave India a fright in the previous series in 2010. Dhoni was dismissive: “The only thing I remember is Harbhajan Singh scoring two hundreds. We'll miss him.”
It was a markedly different Dhoni, who had struggled to explain defeat after defeat in England and Australia on the disastrous back-to-back Test tours. The fallout of those defeats have come in the form of Rahul Dravid and VVS Laxman, who have bid farewell to the team they so splendidly bolstered all these years.
“I really don't know New Zealand… don't know their bowlers. We are expected to win this series. We are just looking to get the basics right,” the Indian skipper added. Few have tamed India in their backyard in the last two decades, and Dhoni's words reflected that confidence. And it will be even more difficult to impress him that a New Zealand team coming off a poor tour of the West Indies and beset with management problems would pose a threat, even to an Indian team in transition.
Dhoni was confident his team will have the home advantage and said the wicket will aid turn. The curator had prepared two tracks for the Test and it seems the home management opted for the one that would give their players the upper hand. The Kiwis, hoping against hope that their pacers can produce some movement off the surface, were left sulking.
New Zealand skipper Ross Taylor cut a forlorn figure. He complained that his team had been taken for a ride as far as the wicket was concerned. “The wicket, yesterday it was different, today it is something else.” The curator, Y Chandrasekar, said it was the hosts' prerogative to choose the wicket.
It has been learnt that the wicket chosen has quite a bit for the spinners. “People come to the sub-continent and they should face tracks that turn. We need to give something to the spinners,” Dhoni said. Skipper Dhoni arrived early on Wednesday, gauging the bowlers closely as they went through their final net session. Ishant Sharma had an extended spell, and despite his early return, India may be tempted to take a chance with him considering the bounce expected in the wicket.