The affable Black Caps arrived in the capital city in a quest to master not just a much higher ranked Team India but also the slow, spin-friendly conditions that severely test even the best in the world. It wasn’t a surprise then that the first question asked of New Zealand skipper Kane Williamson and head coach Mike Hesson, in their arrival press conference, was about turning tracks and Indian spinners.
Referring to the last Test series played on Indian soil between India and South Africa earlier this year which saw the Proteas struggling to handle both the turn and tweak, Williamson, the young skipper, said the visitors were mentally and technically prepared to stave off the challenge. “Certainly, the last series we saw spin played a huge part. At times, the batting was very difficult. So, I really have no doubts that it will be little bit of scrap. Spin from both teams will play a big part. We have three very good spinners as well; it should be a good contest. We know it’s going to be a challenge beating India in their home conditions, particularly in Test format. The team is excited”.
The visitors, ranked 7th in the ICC Test rankings, have been playing Test cricket for the past few months, touring Zimbabwe and South Africa before arriving in India. The Indians too are riding high, post a successful West Indies tour. This series, consisting three Test and five ODI matches, will be a one of the toughest series for the Kiwis who are trying to make a mark post the Brendon McCullum era. The charismatic former skipper had combined well with coach Hesson—a thorough and shrewd planner, to drive his team to play aggressive, pacy, attacking brand of cricket.
Williamson, in appearance and in his cricket is opposite to McCullum. While McCullum was stocky, Williamson is slender. McCullum brutally tore into opponents’ bowling attack; Williamson is a run collector—seldom brash, more correct. Yet, Hesson says Williamson is the right candidate to continue McCullum’s legacy.
“Kane had captained some matches before Brendon retired. Even during the time when Brendon was captain, the key was to know each others' strength. Kane is very thoughtful, methodical, likes to plan well, takes his own time. Brendon wasn’t dissimilar. He was more of a high profile character in NZ, Kane more of a backseat. But they operated in a similar fashion to win,” said Hesson.
While the pace bowlers will look for reverse swing with the red SG ball, all eyes would be on NZ spinners who lack the experience of bowling in the subcontinent. The Kiwis come to India with quality batting, quality pace bowling in Trent Boult and Tim Southee and handy, eager-to-learn triumvirate of spinners.
On the other hand, there is Ravichandran Ashwin looking larger than life in home conditions, putting his experience and control over the ball to full use. “The challenge for us is to first adjusting to the different ball. These Red SG balls could be different from what we have been operating for with the kookaburra balls. Little bit of change there, little of change around the seam angle which are different over here than the other parts of the world. Even though we are not going to bowl like the sub-continent bowlers, we do have to make sure that we find a way to create opportunities. Mark Craig, Mitchell Santaner and Ish Sodhi are keen learners and we need to put a lot of faith in them in the coming weeks,” said Hesson.
NZ will kick off their India tour with a three day practice game against Ranji Trophy champions Mumbai at Delhi’s Ferozshah Kotla ground from September 16 to 18. The NZ series was supposed to mark the kick-off for the pink ball, day and night Tests for India but the proposal was shot down by BCCI as it wanted to first experiment with it in domestic conditions before implementing it in an International match. The first Pink ball Test was played between Australia and New Zealand last year and received massive crowd support. Hesson confirmed that NZ was keen on it but the refusal came from the Indian board. “There’s no doubt that the pink ball Test was discussed. We had, obviously having played one, were quite happy to play another one. But for some reasons, it was deemed inappropriate. It wasn’t something that came from our camp”.