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A great challenge: Fleming

By Our Sports Reporter

The New Zealand captain Stephen Fleming (second from right) at a media conference in Chennai on Monday. Also seen are (from left) Nathan Astle, Lindsay Crocker (manager), and Ashley Ross (coach).

CHENNAI SEPT. 22. New Zealand captain Stephen Fleming does not view the forthcoming two-Test series against India as a personal confrontation with his counterpart.

"I respect Sourav (Ganguly) as a leader as well as a player. This is no revenge match-up. Moreover, there are a lot of good players in the Indian line-up that we need to focus on as well," said the Black Caps' skipper at a press conference before the side's departure for Visakhapatnam on Monday for the tour opener against Board President's XI to be held from September 26 to 28.

While describing India's last tour of New Zealand as a "pretty humbling experience, owing to the conditions, for the visitors, some of whom are the best batsmen in World cricket," Fleming, who met the media along with Nathan Astle, coach Ashley Ross and manager Lindsay Crocker, said, "we have come to India with the expectations that the wickets will be dry and aid spin, which is how it has always been."

Describing a tour of India as a greater challenge than playing Australia in Australia, Fleming said, "the lifestyle in Australia is similar to that of ours in many ways. The greatest challenge in India is to adapt to its nature off the field and the cultural changes as well. Cricket is just a part of the overall challenge. Don't get me wrong on that. We are all very excited. I think it is one of the most marvellous tours to go on".

"It is going to be very tough. India has always been a very proud side at home. With a billion people who love cricket, it is only understandable. The big challenge is to try and keep the crowd quiet; if we do that we know we are doing well. The atmosphere can be electric. What we have is a group of young players who have a bit of experience of the sub-continent."

The New Zealanders hope to carry forward the confidence that the side gained in Sri Lanka — its last series before the Winter break.

"We are well pleased with the way we coped there and have developed since, under Ashley and the management staff with some good pre-tour procedures. So, we have actually come to India with our expectations high, but also realistic about what it is going to take to win a series here," said Fleming.

Would the touring party miss Shane Bond and Chris Cairns? "You cannot replace a Shane or a Cairns. But we hope the youngsters, the ones like Mason (who trained at the MRF Pace Foundation in Chennai and knows what he is in for) make use of the opportunities in these tough conditions.

They are very excited about it and it will make us a better side when Shane returns and Cairns joins the side for the tri-series," said the skipper.

Fleming said he woke up at 3.30 this morning and watched Ross' video analysis of the Irani Trophy game.

"We are pretty impressed with what we saw. The coach has illustrated that quite clearly. But we are a prepared side. We have to be, for when you go against the best, you have to prepare yourself harder and better."

So what were the preparations like? Here, Ross replied. "We are pleased with the way things have gone. The players have trained during the off-season, working on skills specific to India. We did extensive work-outs for four days in Christchurch, eight days in Brisbane and now we have 16 days in India before the Test series."

Fleming added, "we played on tracks that did not have a blade of grass. But could not duplicate the heat though. We have been working on the techniques we used in Sri Lanka. But India has some good strike bowlers as well."

Off-spinner Harbhajan Singh is the one the Kiwis will be watching out for. "He is a quality bowler. Talks with a lot of confidence. In favourable conditions he has proved to be a world-beater. To stay competitive in the series, we certainly have to combat him the way we did Muralitharan in Sri Lanka," opined Fleming.

Any specific strategies? "We have worked on a number of strategies that we hope to put in place during the series. There is no one-way to beat India in India: it is a combination of a lot of things going well," said Fleming.

So how does he plan to inspire the juniors in the team for the big challenge? "Guys like Astle, Richardson and I will have to show them the way by delivering in the first few games. These boys are talented and learn very quickly. We saw this aspect in Sri Lanka," said Fleming.

When one of the journalists said Fleming was an underachiever of sorts, the Kiwi skipper felt the description was probably a little too harsh.

"I'm developing my own style. Maturing as a player and skipper."

The Test squad: Stephen Fleming (Capt.), Nathan Astle, Ian Butler, Robbie Hart (wk), Richard Jones, Craig McMillan, Michael Mason, Jacob Oram, Mark Richardson, Scott Styris, Daryl Tuffey, Daniel Vettori, Lou Vincent and Paul Wiseman.

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