Don’t be fooled. New Zealand is not about bright sunshine and flat pitches. What happened in Napier was an aberration, what went by in Hamilton, where conditions favoured the Indians, is long gone by. Welcome to Windy Wellington, administrative capital of New Zealand and home of the Basin Reserve.
India have clinched historic matches in some of the most historic grounds around the world in the recent past. Who can forget their storming of the Australian fortress of Perth in January last year after that ill-tempered Sydney Test? What about the first Test win on South African soil in the bullring that is the Wanderers, Johannesburg? Or even India’s first series win against West Indies since 1971, masterminded at Sabina Park in July 2006?
Now this Indian team faces its Final Frontier, a series win in New Zealand, something that has not been achieved since the inaugural tour back in 1967-68. What stands between them and success is not so much the New Zealand team, who showed tremendous fight and resolve in Napier, but the old lady of Wellington, the cricket ground that is affectionately referred to as “The Basin.” Way back in 1868, the Basin — originally swampland that rose up close to 2 metres after a massive earthquake in 1855 — was declared the first cricket ground in the country.
When the government opened up the Mt Victoria tunnel close to the Basin in 1931, the flow of traffic around the ground, which is largely uncovered, prompted people to call the ground the biggest traffic island in the world. Amazingly, local transport authorities and other governmental agencies have recently mooted a campaign to construct a flyover traversing the northern part of the ground, a move that has faced widespread protest.
It is at this iconic ground that MS Dhoni (all but certain to return from back injury) will aim to create history on Friday. The sun has been shining brightly, but the driving winds that have to be experienced to be believed, keep the temperature down to about 13 degrees. The wind chill factor, however, ensures that every part of the body needs to be protected when outdoors — not ideal for people trying to play cricket — in order to keep warm. The Indian team has made it a policy not to worry too much about the conditions, but an obvious and unique situation like the one they are confronted with demands attention. The bowlers, especially, will need to adapt very quickly to bowling with and against the wind, and the batsmen will have to be conscious of the effect of the wind on balance, back lift and bat swing. As for the fielding, which wasn’t great at Napier in the first place, concentration will be the watchword.
New Zealand will struggle less, for this is one of their favourite cricket grounds in the country. Their reputation as ferocious guardians of their home record is at stake. There’s enough at stake for both teams, and even a draw will yield a historic moment for the Indians.