If the changing of gears was not so apparent as the teams played frenetic cricket in the one-dayers that followed the T20 games, it will certainly become crystal clear when the three-Test series begins in Hamilton on Wednesday. While the maiden ODI series triumph was creditable, the business end of the tour begins now.
India's only Test series win in New Zealand (3-1) came more than four decades ago when Tiger Pataudi led his men on the first tour of this country. Since then, India have won one more Test here and that was in 1975-76. The recent past - and this is something conversation has centred on a fair bit — is less pleasant.
When India came in 2003, the pitches were of a kind that helped neither side. With plenty of seam movement on offer even moderate quick bowlers tasted success while batsmen from both teams struggled. Only once in the 2-0 rout - in the first innings in Hamilton - was the 200-mark surpassed by either team.
With that in the backdrop, the concern of the touring side is understandable, although the evidence on offer so far suggests that there has been a vast improvement in pitches. Even Saturday's final ODI, when a bit of assistance for the faster men put India's batting in all sorts of discomfort, is unlikely to tempt groundsmen to produce a repeat of 2003. It goes without saying that Test pitches are likely to be less batsman-friendly than the ones the ODIs were played on, but still the Indians have no need to be alarmed.
For one, India's three most experienced batsmen — Sachin Tendulkar, Rahul Dravid and V.V.S. Laxman (with 389 Tests and 30000 runs between them) — were not part of Saturday's action. They will come to the fore in the Tests and Tendulkar has already said that he has never encountered pitches of the 2003 vintage anywhere, before or after, in his near 20-year career.
“I wasn't here last time (India toured),” coach Gary Kirsten said, “but there's been reasonable bounce in most wickets this time, some better than the others. I was particularly impressed with Napier. It'll be interesting to see what happens in the Test series, where they try and leave a bit more on the wickets.”
While Kirsten suggested that the New Zealanders could prepare wickets to suit their strengths, he stressed that his team has the range to thrive in any conditions. “We've seen the ball can swing in these conditions,” said Kirsten “We know the success of our Test team has been the ability to adapt to any conditions they are confronted with, including very flat wickets.”
Add to this the fact that Zaheer Khan and Ishant Sharma have proven themselves as the leading new-ball pair in the world, and the case for preparing fair tracks gets stronger. Daniel Vettori conceded as much when he said, “In the last four or five years, the wickets have been pretty good. Both teams want good cricket wickets.”