On a bright Friday, light bounced off the verdant green at the quaint Nelson Park. And a lovely hill formed an enchanting backdrop.
It was in this setting that M.S. Dhoni emerged beaming after a busy Indian practice session. The skipper was in good spirits as he posed for photographs and then got inside the waiting vehicle.
Yet, behind his smiling exterior, Dhoni would be all too aware of the demanding nature of India’s campaign in New Zealand.
The Indians will feature in two Tests — at Auckland and Wellington — after the five-match ODI series beginning with the Sunday’s game here.Seamer-friendly pitches
The pitches are expected to be seamer-friendly and the Kiwis possess a vibrant pace attack. The technique of a young Indian batting line-up will be examined.
While this country is beautiful, cricket will be hard. Swing and seam will be at the heart of the contests.
New Zealand has been a country of destiny for India.
It was here in 1968 that Tiger Pataudi’s men kept their date with glory by becoming the first Indian team to win a Test series away from home.
In the remarkable 3-1 triumph, Erapalli Prasanna’s flight and dip, drift and spin donned a major role. That, indeed, was a breakthrough series for India.Serious problems
Of course, India has run into serious problems too in New Zealand. From the legendary Richard Hadlee to the mercurial Shane Bond, the Kiwi pacemen have had, on several occasions, the last word in several encounters with the Indians. While the Test series will be of significance to India vis a vis the emergence of a new breed of batsmen — the surfaces for the two Tests in South Africa did not test them sufficiently to provide comprehensive answers — the ODI series has its value too.
The 2015 ICC ODI World Cup will be held in Australia and New Zealand and the Indian team will try to put the pieces together ahead of its title defence.
The chances are that the left-handed Suresh Raina will bat at No. 4, a spot occupied by Yuvraj Singh before his omission. How Raina performs in a slot that lends stability to the line-up will be watched with interest.
India is also on the look-out for a seam-bowling allrounder and Stuart Binny gets an opportunity to showcase his ability.
Varun Aaron, back after a prolonged absence caused by a back injury, will add firepower to the attack.
Aaron has the speed and the mind of a fast bowler. In the ODIs, he can be a strike bowler.
Shikhar Dhawan and Rohit Sharma will be eyeing form ahead of the Test series.
R. Ashwin will also be looking to reclaim his spot as the No. 1 spinner ahead of the Tests. While his inherent qualities as a batsman will be his allies in seaming conditions, Ashwin will have to get into an ideal bowling rhythm in the ODIs.
There is considerable buzz here about the 21-year-old fast bowler Adam Milne. He consistently bowls in the high 140s (kmph), often hits 150. More importantly, he regularly gets the batsmen to fend off the rib-cage.Milne factor
In fact, the Kiwi selectors could be looking beyond the ODI series for Milne. There is a strong chance that he could be asked to intimidate the Indian line-up with his short-pitched stuff in the Test series.
New Zealand coach Mike Hesson has been pretty direct with what he wants for the series. He has asked for lively tracks for the ODIs and green-tops for the Tests.
And he has implored his pacemen to run in with intent and aggression and get the Indian batsmen out of their comfort zone. Dhoni and his men face a challenge.