The overcast sky kept the midday temperature rather low in Auckland on Thursday. A steady wind swept across New Zealand’s biggest city, on its west coast, forcing most people to go for their light protective wear. As a sudden gust blew, two young men broke into a broad grin. Pushing their wrapped surf boards on a trolley, the thought of the big waves rolling in from the Tasman Sea would have particularly encouraged them.
New Zealand is not known for its weather fluctuations, and there is no such thing as a dry summer in these parts of the southern hemisphere. Across the North Island, in Napier, the sun shone brightly but the wind picked up towards the evening.
The tiny Napier airport with a single arrival and departure hall was a picture of bonhomie. The baggage collection showcased the community spirit of the quiet town, where the luggage is brought in a trailer, leaving the passengers to pull their suitcases and head home. Bottles of wine were arranged with a glass cover thrown over it below floor level, a simple way of advertising one of the region’s source of prosperity.
However, MS Dhoni and his men would know there won’t be much scope for bonhomie once their New Zealand tour kicks in earnest on Sunday. But the wind will surely be on their minds. Having landed early, they put in a third day of practice, a full-fledged affair on Thursday morning at Nelson Park. It is close to McLean Park, venue of the opening ODI.
The India skipper loves to stay focused on the present, so it is unlikely Dhoni would have spared a thought for his England counterpart. Alastair Cook’s plight across The Ditch – as the Tasman Sea is called by the Australians and New Zealanders. His high-flying side was been rubbed to the ground after the 0-5 Ashes rout; the opener himself has seen his form completely desert him.
Dhoni experienced a similar low Down Under in a 2011-12 season as India were routed in England and Australia in successive overseas series.
The resurgence at home silenced demands for his head but the South Africa tour losses means India are under pressure regardless of the gulf in one-day rankings between the visitors and the hosts.
However, unlike England who have scattered in a wake of the defeats, the fighting performances by some of India’s young batsmen in South Africa have raised hopes.
After that test of pace and bounce, it could be down to the swing and seam of New Zealand pacers. Some of the former Kiwi stars, including Martin Crowe, have backed coach Mike Hesson’s call for lively pitches to counter India’s batting talent.
Both Dhoni and coach Duncan Fletcher were backed by the BCCI despite the demand for a change of guard over a year ago.
With that issue settled some time back, it will be interesting to see how well the pair plan to win well on this tour but also sow the seeds for success in the series of overseas campaigns ahead —including the summer tour of England — leading up to the 2015 World Cup to be co-hosted by Australia and England.