The Indian team has flown here for its final stop on what has so far been a demanding campaign.
Events happening back in India — speculations on the names of cricketers allegedly involved in illegal practices are doing the rounds — have forced this already embattled Indian side to go into a shell.
But then, cricket has to go on even in these troubled times and the second Test at the Basin Reserve presents the Indian team a formidable challenge.
Bowlers win Tests, more so in the windy Wellington where there should be considerable assistance to the pacemen.Erratic bowling
India also needs to avoid the kind of erratic bowling display in the New Zealand first innings at Auckland that saw the Kiwis amass a 500-plus total.
The Indian pacemen, carried away by the pace and bounce in the pitch, often banged it in short and gave the batsmen width. They were taken for runs by Kane Williamson, Brendon McCullum and Corey Anderson.
The pacemen, ideally, should have hit the pitch from a back-of-a-length, extracting lift and seam movement from close to the off-stump on a hard drop-in pitch.
The Indians got it right in the second innings when they largely pitched the ball three-quarters on a good length area around the off-stump.
These are the kinds of lengths that can make batsmen indecisive about playing back or forward.
And disruption in footwork produces wickets.
When asked a question on the most difficult length for a batsman to cope with, Rahul Dravid said it was the good length ball hitting the top of off-stump. Yet, to bowl this delivery time and time again, building pressure on the batsmen all the while, requires exceptional control.
The surface at the Basin Reserve, where the second Test, beginning on February 14, could be different and the Indian pacemen might have to change tactics.
The hard track at Eden Park was not a typically Kiwi wicket. It was more of an Australian type of pitch where there was pace and bounce but not too much movement. So short-of-a-good length deliveries worked. The Basin Reserve can be a paradise for swing bowlers, with winds sweeping across the ground.
The surface invariably has a covering of grass and the right idea would be to pitch the ball up and give it the maximum chance to swing.
The tactic that usually works in Wellington is to push the batsmen back with well-directed short-pitched deliveries and then pitch one up and swing it either in or away.
Bowlers have to adapt to the conditions. When pace legend Glenn McGrath realised his back-of-length precision would not work on the Indian wickets, he pitched the ball up a lot more to reap the rewards on the 2004 tour of India.Role definition
The role definition of the Indian pace attack in the second Test will have to be clear. For instance, bowling against the wind at the Basin Reserve can be physically and mentally tiring. You need a strong bloke to do the job, and Ishant could be the man. Long spells beckon this lanky seamer.
The experienced Zaheer Khan’s left-arm swing could have a greater impact in the second Test. The conditions should suit his kind of bowling but Zaheer needs to up his pace.
Mohammed Shami bounded in to bowl a telling spell in the second innings at Auckland. His natural length seems to be just short of a good length from where he gets his deliveries to skid around.
At the Basin, he might need to bowl a little more up to the batsmen to consume them on the drive. Here, the line of the Indian pacemen will be critical for keeping the ’keeper and the slip cordon busy.
Then there is cricket’s golden rule — Keep it tight, cut down on runs. Stress produces wickets.