Expected the Kiwi pacemen to target his batsmen with short-pitched bowling

The sky was essentially grey here on Wednesday. Cloud-cover and spells of rain have been forecast for the next five days.

These are conditions that should suit the pacemen in the first Test, beginning on Thursday. Bowling first on a fresh wicket would be an advantage.

The Indian team’s practice session was marked by the release of some pre-Test nervous energy.

Opener Murali Vijay walked up to the surface for the Test and shadow practised from an imaginary stance. Soon, the session got busier. Skipper Mahendra Singh Dhoni was in the thick of things.

Dhoni comprehends the nature of the challenge.

He, however, smartly opted to play down the significance of grass-laden track. “More than the grass, it is important to see whether it is live grass or not. And it is also important whether the base of the wicket has moisture or not. If the base is dry, it will be a good batting pitch.”

The Indian captain expected the New Zealand pacemen to target his batsmen with short-pitched bowling.

Yet, he sounded confident. “In Tests, you have the time to pick and choose. You could play a stroke off a lifting delivery or simply leave it. “In the ODIs, this is not always possible since you have to cope with the asking rate. Your response depends on how much the other team has scored.”

Dhoni was optimistic about India’s prospects in the two-Test series.

“We played well in South Africa. We just had two bad hours and it cost us the series. We have been playing good cricket for most part.”

The Indian captain felt playing five bowlers was not a bad idea but indicated the team was not yet ready for such a strategy. “We need to have more confidence in our batting. It is still a young line-up.”

On left-arm spinner Ravindra Jadeja’s role in an attack dominated by pacemen, Dhoni said, “he keeps it tight, denies runs from one end.

“What Jadeja does is that he keeps one end going while I can rotate the pacemen from the other. But he needs to improve as a batsman. He has a lot of ability.”

Ishant Sharma, Dhoni said, had a key role as a first change bowler. “The kookaburra ball does not swing much after the first 25-30 overs. “So Ishant has to keep hitting that length, extracting bounce and some seam movement and keeping things tight. We cannot afford to give away too many runs.”

Zaheer’s influence

Dhoni said senior paceman Zaheer Khan’s influence was huge in the side. “It’s not just about mentoring. It’s about helping the younger pacemen with strategies during play. Walking up to them and giving them inputs after every over and spell.”

Of course, Dhoni had high expectations from Cheteshwar Pujara in this series. “He has the ideal temperament, has so much patience. He waits and waits for the bowlers to pitch in his areas of strength. It’s not easy to bat like him. Pujara reads the game so well.”

The team just had ‘enough’ time to prepare for the Test, Dhoni said. “A lot of players in the Test team have already played in the ODIs. So they know a fair bit about the conditions.”

Like his counterpart Brendon McCullam, Dhoni’s swashbuckling batting could impact the series.

Both captains will also keep a keen eye on the weather.

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