New Zealand cricket teams have never been world beaters, but at home they can be a handful for the world’s best. Skill wise, the Kiwis haven’t had more than a couple of names with world class credentials. But what they lack in quality, they make up by using home advantage to good effect.
The strongest of Indian batting line-ups have faced the challenge adapting to the windy weather, and most series there have been tough.
On the last Test tour, surprisingly they laid out more batting-friendly wickets and the subcontinent giants made merry, winning there for the first time since 1967-68. In between, India had drawn two series and lost four.
It could be a stiff challenge this time with Kiwi coach Mike Hesson specifically asking for pace bowler-friendly conditions.
It’s remarkable how things can change in one series. Everyone was fretting post-Tendulkar over the ability of the young India batsmen to cope with testing conditions. Post SA, the same batting line-up will have to deal with the pressure of expectations.
By holding their own against the world’s most lethal pace attack in South Africa, Cheteshwar Pujara, Virat Kohli and Ajinkya Rahane have provided solidity and steel to the batting. It was supposed to be the real test, where their mental strength would be challenged, but they did not flinch against the bouncer barrage while taking body blows.
“Mental toughness is very important at the highest level of the game and I am working hard on this aspect,” said the 25-year-old Mumbai player, who put behind blows to his helmet and shoulder from Steyn on way to a fighting 96 at Durban. Rahane, who is also in the ODI squad, is high on confidence after scoring a half-century in each innings of the second Test.
Bred on flat tracks, it’s about making the fine technical changes to deal with the extra movement and bounce. Lalchand Rajput, who took India’s development squads (Under-19 and India A) twice to New Zealand, said: “The wickets in SA are hard, which aid bounce. In NZ, they are softer, and it can be very windy, making it a challenge to play swing bowling,” said Rajput, who had Kohli, Rahane and Ishant Sharma in the U-19 team and Mohammed Shami, Bhuvneshwar Kumar and Ambati Rayudu in the A team.
It calls for more discipline, and the stroke- makers will have to control shot-making. “You can’t play too many shots, too early,” said Rajput.
It also demands a lot of concentration, something Pujara does best in this team. The Saurashtra batsman averaged over 70, aggregating 280 runs in the two-Test rubber.
“I am really satisfied with my performance over the last one to one-and-a-half years. I have worked hard on my game. I am paying a lot of attention to fitness,” he told the media here on Monday.
“Improved fitness helps one to concentrate more when batting. I want to keep improving as a cricketer,” said the 25-year-old, adding that he became more serious about fitness after suffering knee injuries.
The advantage for the India batters this time is the minimum time they would need to acclimatise after the South Africa experience. It only means another good contest is in the offing.