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Opening India tour with warm-up game, New Zealand breathe easy

cricket Updated: Sep 15, 2016 22:56 IST
Siddhartha Sharma
Siddhartha Sharma
Hindustan Times
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New Zealand team members during a practice session at Kotla on Thursday. (Mohd Zakir/HT PHOTO)

In 2010 and 2012, New Zealand lost three and drew two Tests in India. On both occasions, the Kiwis, before arriving in India, had played at home or in conditions that supported bounce and pace (West Indies and Australia).

With no warm-up game, New Zealand hardly got time to adjust to the subcontinent conditions and failed to come to terms with spin.

In 2010, the Kiwis gave away 27 wickets to spinners in three Tests. Two years later, they lost 31 wickets to India spinners in the two-Test series. With Kanpur, the venue of the first Test, rolling out a turner, the Kiwis could face a similar situation.

New Zealand have not played in the subcontinent for almost two years and are landing in India after tours of South Africa, Zimbabwe and Australia. But this time, they can breathe easy as they have a three-day warm-up game against Mumbai at the Feroz Shah Kotla.

“There was a bit of grass on the Kotla surface during the WT20 2016 and this is not what we expected before the first Test at Kanpur,” said New Zealand batsman Ross Taylor. “During the last two tours here, we didn’t have a warm-up game so it’s nice to have one against quality opposition. It’s going to be a hard-fought series in the next seven weeks.”

The pitch at the Kotla is fresh and has a thin layer of green. But since the Indian Board emphasises on home advantage, the warm-up game will not present such conditions to the visitors.

“Its part and parcel, the way cricket is being played. Playing on home advantage is not any different from New Zealand. When you guys come there, we leave a bit of grass on the wicket. I guess that is what home advantage is all about. We are expecting the wickets to turn over here and not like the one offered at Kotla for the next three days,” said Taylor.

On current form, the Kiwis are struggling. Against South Africa, they lost the second Test by a huge margin of 204 runs. They failed to put up a team performance and went down to the touring Australians at home in February. The only time they clicked as a unit was against Zimbabwe, an opposition lacking quality bowling.

This year, the Kiwis have the experience of playing on rank turners. They played the WT20 in India and beat the hosts at Nagpur. Handling spin on rank turners could still be a challenge. Taylor, though, believes a different approach could help the Kiwis do well.

“I have played the sweep shot in my career and tried to go away from it as well, especially in a Test match format. Anytime we play in the subcontinent, you got to play the sweep shot or the cut shot. The guys were practicing it in the first training. It is like playing to your strengths and not everyone’s strengths is the sweep shot and some people had success here. Looking at Brendon McCullum, when he got a 200 here, it was not sweep but reverse sweep that he was able to put pressure back on the bowlers,” said Taylor.

In left-arm spinner Daniel Vettori’s absence, the Kiwis have struggled to rely on the new spinners. Though both Mitchell Santner and Ish Sodhi did well in the shorter format, it is the pacers, Neil Wagner, Trent Boult and Tim Southee, who do the bulk of damage. Wagner picked up wickets against Australia and South Africa. On roughed up Indian tracks, the pace battery could pose a threat with reverse swing.

“The ball does swing a little bit early on and these are going to be different conditions. We might open with a spinner or get the ball to swing for 10-12 overs. Reverse swing is going to be a factor, and both Trent and Neil are good exponents of reverse swing,” said Taylor.

Rohit to play for Mumbai

India batsman Rohit Sharma did not attend the Mumbai practice session on Thursday, but skipper Aditya Tare confirmed he would play against New Zealand in the warm-up game. After the India team was announced for the New Zealand series, it was said Rohit would play the warm-up game owing to poor form.

Fumigation makes it difficult

Before the press conference at the Kotla, the DDCA arranged for fumigation in and around the stadium, given the outbreak of dengue and chikungunya in the city. The intention was to keep the teams safe from mosquitoes, but the smoke was too much for Ross Taylor, and he asked the interaction to be postponed by 10 minutes.