The unusually warm summer afternoon in the New Zealand capital was the cue for people to pour onto the beaches along the picturesque bay. A steady stream of cyclists and joggers too made their way down from the hilly suburbs.
One of the windiest national capitals in the world, the gusts had dropped to a gentle breeze on Wednesday. But for the India team, the balmy weather would have provided cold comfort.
It is not that the visiting players have been made to feel like outsiders. On Tuesday night, as they boarded the team bus after the match, there were dozens of fans pressed against the mesh fencing. There were chants of ‘Dhoni, Dhoni’ and ‘Kohli, Kohli’ seeking attention and autographs but the players, reeling after New Zealand thrashed them by seven wickets to seal the series 3-0, left Seddon Park quickly.
Half an hour later, a celebratory roar came from the Kiwi dressing room. But there was not a soul around with only a few journalists finishing their work and the TV crew reeling in the equipment present at the ground.
The one thing India are unlikely to experience is what it means to really feel under siege abroad. There were hundreds of Indian fans in the first ODI in Napier, and that swelled to thousands in the next three games, in Hamilton and Auckland.
“I have never heard that kind of noise at Eden Park, not even during the rugby final when thousands more were accommodated with extra seating,” said a support staff for the broadcasters, comparing the tied third ODI with the All Blacks’ World Cup victory.
But India have paid the penalty for trying to play like they do at home, finding no way to counter the Kiwi batsmen or bowlers. Their brand of cricket has left fans fuming. “I have been watching the Indian team here from Kapil’s time, but I won’t go for Friday’s game,” said an Indian of Fijian origin. “At least Sehwag would have hit 40 in 15 balls even if he would have got out. These guys score 5 runs in 25 deliveries.”
The batsmen have tried to hit out of trouble early on against disciplined pace bowling. The pace bowlers have gone from bad to worse as the Kiwi batsmen have taken the traditional route of building the innings before dealing the big blows.
The big problem for India is that most of the players are likely to figure in the 2015 World Cup, and on their current showing mounting a title challenge will be very difficult. When India arrived, they were braced for lively tracks. But there has hardly been any movement for their bowlers while the Kiwi counterparts have kept their batsmen pegged to the back foot.
Gavin Larsen, a former slow-medium bowler whose restrictive bowling was a feature of the 1990s Kiwi side, said New Zealand pitches have undergone a sea change and that called for a smarter approach.
“In 1992, our pitches were slow and sluggish, you could get on the front foot; slow bowlers like me were hard to get away. Now our pitch management systems are a lot better, so we have got pace on our pitches.
“They are not what you call fast but it allows our batsmen to play 360 degrees, there are more cross-batted shots being played by them. And the bowlers got to run in hard and bowl into the pitch. And spinners will get exposed in New Zealand now because the pitches do not turn a lot.”