If India went into the South Africa series without any assessment of local conditions, they are in danger of being under-cooked going into the Test series starting in Auckland on Thursday. Hectic international scheduling leaves little time for warm-up games to prepare elaborately, but this time it also seems to be due to the designs of the Kiwis.
The two-day warm up game at the Cobham Oval here was to get over the wounds inflicted by the hosts in the One-day series and tune-up for the Tests. It helped India to some extent in terms of batting and bowling. But the New Zealand XI who featured in the drawn game showed they are very much part of the larger plans to prevent any Indian revival.
In India too, there have been instances of providing good conditions for warm-up games and then hitting visiting teams on turning pitches. The Kiwi team management had explained after the ODI series triumph how closely they had analysed India's players and that they would continue to use the short ball as the main weapon.
In Whangarei, the New Zealand team video analyst captured those players who did not figure in India's ODI side. On the first day, he arrived on the boundary with his video camera in hand whenever Zaheer Khan, Umesh Yadav or Ishwar Pandey came in to bowl. On Monday, his 'targets' were Murali Vijay and Cheteshwar Pujara.
Not just that, the NZ XI pacers hardly bowled a bouncer on Tuesday, pitching it short only with the second new ball when the game was ending. Yes, the pitch was good to bat on. But they were disciplined, pitching it up or keeping it just short. If the India batsman had hoped for useful practice against the rising ball, they didn't get it. Anton Devcich, the only international in the home side, acknowledged the tactic figured in team discussions.
He added: "The Indian guys have been found out with the short ball a little bit and I think they are going to cop a little bit more of that during the Test series."
Replying to the New Zealand XI's 262 for nine declared overnight, the Indians declared at 313 for seven, with Rohit Sharma and Ajinkya Rahane having retired with half-centuries, when the match was called off as a draw.
Rohit (59), leading the side, and Rahane (60) used the chance to spend time in the middle, showing lot of patience. But the top three missed out. Murali Vijay (19) and Cheteshwar Pujara (33) paid the price for being rooted to the crease.
Vijay was beaten by an incoming delivery from the well-built Malaesaili Tugaga to be bowled in the second over of the day. Shikhar Dhawan (26), who has struggled since the start of the South Africa tour, was run out completing the third run.
Pujara, key to India's revival on this tour, was in good touch and played the one shot that has been in short supply for India – the back foot shot through off-side. It was bread and butter for their tormentors Kane Williamson and Ross Taylor in the ODIs. But third change Roald Badenhorst beat him with seam movement, trapping him plumb in front.
The Kiwis rate Pujara as the biggest threat and would be happy he didn't get going. And it would not have done much to ease India's anxiety.