Christchurch, February 25: “The Rockstars of Cricket are coming,” read the banner at the AMI Stadium — three shadowy figures, set against a backdrop of orange, purple, and blue, strumming bat-shaped guitars.
New Zealand Cricket, which will earn $25 million in television rights from India’s tour, certainly didn’t hold back in selling its affluent and popular visitors.
But hype carries with it the inherent risk of being instantly bettered, and Iron Maiden turned up for a concert in their swank private jet, Ed Force One (named after its mummified mascot, Eddie, who occupies pride of place on the tail fin).
Fortunately for India, Maiden shifted this leg of its “Somewhere Back in Time World Tour” from the AMI Stadium. Twenty20 is designed for ‘entertainment’, and M.S. Dhoni’s men, the current ‘world champion’, are as entertaining as they come.
But not even they would have fancied following the hugely successful band.
Asked what the fans could expect from the first Twenty20 International here on Wednesday, Dhoni said, “That’s very difficult to say because the last time we played in Australia it was not really impressive. We didn’t really perform to the extent we should.”
Dhoni was referring to one of only two defeats India has suffered in the game’s most compressed format — the other loss, incidentally, was inflicted by New Zealand.
The Indian captain was being typically honest, aware as he was of the dangers of playing a high-risk game in bowler-friendly conditions.
Drop-in wickets factor
Drop-in wickets, such as the one to be used here, don’t always favour stroke-play. They need to be incredibly compact so they can fit snugly in a cavity — as a result, they often contain too much water or too much grass, binding agents both. When not a seamer’s dream, they tend to play slow.
But India appears to have the balance and quality in bowling required to exploit the conditions.
“A lot depends on the conditions tomorrow (Wednesday),” said Dhoni.
“If it is cloudy and there is a bit of rain, it will help the seamers, but if there is too much rain, the ball will become soggy and the batsmen could benefit.”
The Indians have done its best to acclimatise to the conditions here. They have logged time in the nets at Lincoln, making the 30-minute commute through the pretty country side to groove their games.
To tackle the bone-chilling wind, they have fallen back on the simple expedient of evening walks (“so we can feel the air on our faces” as Dhoni said). Most significantly, they have relaxed, refusing to fuss over what they can’t control.
On an upswing
New Zealand’s cricket is on an upswing. In Jesse Ryder, Brendon McCullum, Ross Taylor, Martin Guptill, and Jacob Oram, the home side has diverse, explosive batting talent. Grant Elliott has shown he can stitch an innings together — a quality that will serve a side well in these conditions.
If not for sitting back on a 2-0 lead in Australia, failing to force the play, Daniel Vettori would have accomplished what every Kiwi captain desires deeply — a series win over his trans-Tasman rival.
Coach Andy Moles said New Zealand has addressed the issue, which is an old failing; it will benefit the young side to attack constantly, not showily, but subtly.
New Zealand will target Virender Sehwag and Gautam Gambhir, said Vettori.
“Sehwag creates momentum at the top of the order and is such an aggressive player that he can take the game away quite quickly,” he said.
“A lot of our emphasis is on him and probably Gambhir with their opening partnership. If we can put some pressure on India early then maybe it gives us a chance.
“We’re hoping that we get to Yuvraj (Singh) early by our plans for Gambhir and Sehwag. He’s more vulnerable (early) than when he comes in with a bit of platform. We are not underestimating how destructive he can be.”
New Zealand has had injury troubles. McCullum played with a bruised hip in Australia, while Taylor (hamstring) and Ryder (shoulder) are returning from injury.
But it’s the injury to Oram (who will play as a batsman) that will hurt Vettori the most. New Zealand, faced with India’s batting firepower, could have done with Oram’s back-of-a-length defence early in the innings.