Feels the difference in rankings will hardly matter

The huge gap in their ICC rankings might make India the favourite, but former New Zealand batsman Martin Crowe feels the Kiwis have a fair chance of winning the upcoming ODI and Test series if they prepare pitches that assist seamers.

India, touring New Zealand for the first time since early 2009, has just three old faces in its ranks for the Tests — captain M.S. Dhoni, and fast bowlers Zaheer Khan and Ishant Sharma.

“New Zealand should focus on exposing a line-up that has never batted in these conditions before,” said Crowe. “Tim Southee, Trent Boult and Neil Wagner (or Adam Milne as back-up) are the men to target India’s top six. They are confident, fit and working well together. Most importantly, they can produce a significant amount of swing to trouble any top player early in his innings,” he added.

India, ranked No. 1 in ODIs, will play five one-dayers and two Tests against the Black Caps, placed eighth, and Crowe insisted that New Zealand must play to its strength, focussing on making green tops.

“The pitches should be green and hold moisture. This environment has been missing recently. Hadlee and Co., from the glorious past, didn’t bowl on featherbeds; they gained assistance off the seam as well as through the air.

“With respect to an Indian attack that is ageing a little with Zaheer back in, local groundsmen should be watering freely, just as the ones in India remove life from their pitches,” Crowe wrote in his column on Espncricinfo.

While India is ranked No. 2 in Tests, New Zealand is at 8th position, but Crowe feels that the rankings will hardly matter when the two teams contest on energetic pitches.

“India is ranked No. 2 and New Zealand No. 8, but don’t let that fool you. This series, if played on energetic pitches, where results are found in approximately four days, could well be as memorable as any we have seen in this part of the world for a while,” Crowe stressed.

“The home side must aim for a series win. While I am not big on unrealistic expectations, I believe that in home conditions all teams must set that goal. These days, to not win at home, whoever you are, is a missed opportunity.”

The former player said the conditions here will test the Indian batting line-up, which adjusted well during the recent tour to South Africa.

“The Indian line-up will be tested as much as they were in South Africa last month, but in different ways. On that score, they coped well against real pace and bounce, despite losing the series to a classy No. 1 ranked team.

“Their confidence of adjusting to foreign conditions will be high, given their showing overall. In New Zealand, their ability to adjust will need to keep evolving,” he explained.

No underestimation

Crowe, however, made it clear that the Indian bowlers’ abilities should not be underestimated. “Indian bowlers shouldn’t be discounted by any stretch. Zaheer is one of the finest to ever open the bowling for India and his experience will be invaluable. He will know he can exploit the New Zealand openers, who are showing a distinct lack of proper foot movement at times.

“Frankly, if there isn’t better footwork shown by Peter Fulton and Hamish Rutherford, their places will become open to scrutiny — if they are not under the cosh already.”

According to Crowe, Cheteshwar Pujara and Virat Kohli against Kane Williamson and Ross Taylor, is likely to be an interesting contest.

“Both Pujara and Kohli have had remarkable run sprees recently, as has Taylor, while Williamson will be looking to kick on after getting decent starts. He has shown growth and progress in the pivotal No. 3 spot, and this tour will be a good challenge for his mental strength,” said Crowe.

Crowe felt that while both will come up with good strategies, fielding could make a difference. “The fielding unit is another vital cog, and the team that makes an impact first could well be the one that gets the jump,” said Crowe.

More In: Cricket | Sport