A cloudy Auckland provided respite from the harsh summer sunshine as New Zealand finished an intense training session on Tuesday. After that, they spread out near the edge of the second ground at the Eden Park for a media interaction.
Prominent among them were Jesse Ryder, Ross Taylor and reserve paceman Doug Bracewell, all talking about how they overcame their personal dark moments to return to the national squad and how they expect to keep India struggling. Success and confidence does encourage sportsmen to be candid.
But the real strife seems to be within the India camp. After their two-hour bus ride from Whangarei, where they drew the two-day warm-up game the previous evening, the players were given the day off. Following their failure to attack or defend against the bowling, aggression and calculated batting of the hosts in the ODI series, the focus will be on how India respond tactically in the two-Test series starting on Thursday.
The Test series will show if India’s young squad shows the tactical maturity and application to counter what has so far been a very effective approach by the hosts. Another poor showing will result in their fourth successive away Test series defeat and raise serious concerns in a season of playing away from home.
Last time they were faced with two challenging tours, England and Australia, India lost each of the eight Tests. That prevented the middle-order trio of Rahul Dravid, Sachin Tendulkar and Vangipurappu Laxman from walking into a golden sunset. There was no new dawn in South Africa either, despite the young batsmen putting up a remarkable fight in the Test series.
With India in crisis mode, any hopes of a turnaround will depend on the two who are gradually assuming the mantle of the team’s backbone – Cheteshwar Pujara and Virat Kohli.
In South Africa, they were the ones who took charge in the first Test after Murali Vijay’s remarkable patience wore down Dale Steyn and Co first up. However, India cannot expect any respite from the host bowlers, who are confident the Eden Park pitch will offer bounce and carry, allowing them to harass India’s batsmen. The drop-in pitch on the other hand is not expected to afford much seam movement, something that can play into the hands of Zaheer Khan.
Pujara and Virat are the two batsmen who have consistently shown the technique and confidence to play off the backfoot. That will be crucial if they are to counter Tim Southee, Trent Boult and Neil Wagner as well as all-rounder Corey Anderson.
While the batting order is settled, the India team management will have a close look at Ishant Sharma’s form. With Shami certain to share the new ball with Zaheer, Ishant, after struggling in the ODIs, will have to show that he can use his height to hit the deck, a crucial aspect of succeeding on New Zealand pitches.
That could well determine whether No 3 and 4, Kane Williamson and Ross Taylor run away with the game once again.