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Captain Dhoni: We are not taking NZ lightly

- ‘A challenge for the youngsters’
Mahendra Singh Dhoni, in Auckland, on Monday

Calcutta: Describing New Zealand as a force to reckon with on their home turf, Team India captain Mahendra Singh Dhoni said on Monday that his team will not be taking the Black Caps lightly in the upcoming ODI series starting January 19.

“New Zealand are a fantastic side. They’ve got good bowlers and their recent performances have been really good. And especially at home, they’ll know the conditions better than us and for some who have not played here it will be a challenge,” Dhoni was quoted as saying by The New Zealand Herald.

The Indian team arrived in Auckland on Monday for the five-match series, which would be followed by two Tests next month.

“We’re not taking New Zealand lightly, we’ll give them the respect they should get and we know their experienced players are dangerous enough to win games by themselves,” Dhoni told a press conference on arrival.

Dhoni feels the tour would be a good exposure trip for his teammates as they start preparing for the World Cup to be staged in New Zealand and Australia next year.

“It’s good exposure for them. The grounds here are a very different shape and it’s difficult to exactly pinpoint the fielding positions. They are quite different to where you usually place your fielders. Overall, it’ll be a fantastic tour for all the guys,” he said.

Dhoni said he is hoping for a good performance from his bowlers. “Overall I’m quite happy with the bowlers.

“Again it really depends on the conditions. But if the wicket is favouring the fast bowlers we’ve definitely got bowlers who can make the most out of the new ball,” he said.

India will play five ODIs and two Tests, but no T20 Internationals, after the schedule was reduced.

But Dhoni played it down saying it was an administrative decision. “I haven’t a clue,” he said. “I’m someone who lives in the present. I always think about the stuff that’s in my control. It’s more of an administrative decision, so there’s no point thinking why T20 is not there, why there’s one Test less this time...”

Apart from Dhoni, seamers Zaheer Khan and Ishant Sharma are the only other players from India, who played in New Zealand in 2009, but the captain said he was not too worried about that.

“Looking at how the guys are shaping up gives me a very positive vibe. That shifting over has happened very well. Overall I’m happy with how the batting unit has performed,” said Dhoni.

India had performed creditably during their last tour to New Zealand in 2009. After winning the three-match Test series 1-0, they also won the one-dayers 3-1 with one match being abandoned. New Zealand won both the Twenty20s.

Ishant reduced New Zealand to 60 for six on the opening morning in Hamilton before rearguard centuries from Jesse Ryder and Daniel Vettori rescued the hosts. India’s batsmen replied well with Sachin Tendulkar's 160, supported by Gautam Gambhir, Rahul Dravid, Dhoni and Zaheer. India took a lead of 231.

Harbhajan Singh then ripped through the hosts, setting India up for a massive victory, though Brendon McCullum's 84 staved off the ignominy of an innings defeat. If the first Test showcased India's dominance, the second in Napier underlined their resilience when pushed into a corner.

Ryder's double-century, supported by hundreds from Ross Taylor and Brendon McCullum, took New Zealand to an imposing 619. Despite fifties from Dravid and VVS Laxman, India fell well short of the follow-on mark, which New Zealand enforced with over six sessions to go. But India rode Gambhir’s 137 to force a draw.