| Sachin Tendulkar on arrival in Auckland on Monday. (AFP)
Christchurch: Aware that India have not won a Test series in New Zealand for over three decades, captain Sourav Ganguly on Monday said his side was better equipped to reverse the trend, having been far more consistent in alien conditions this year.
“We have played well this year and have been quite consistent. We will try our best,” said Sourav, soon after his team landed here on a 47-day tour which will include two Tests and seven ODIs against the hosts.
Sourav, who was mindful of the fact that India have not won a Test series here since 1967-68 and had a 4-6 winning Test record in New Zealand, is just one win away from equalling Mohammed Azharuddin’s feat of 14 as Test captain.
Coach John Wright was equally upbeat on his team’s chances though he cautioned that the conditions in New Zealand would be very difficult and demanding.
“Teams find it hard to play in New Zealand because the wicket seams a lot. You could get the odd good wicket but with the ball moving about quite a bit, it’s not easy. Then it can get very cold and windy and wet — so it can be a very demanding tour,” Wright said.
Wright drew comfort from his batsmen’s showing in home and alien conditions in the past one year.
“We are a strong batting line-up and have proved formidable not only in India but also away from home.”
Wright, however, conceded leading the country’s cricketers on a tour of his homeland would be “different” but said his allegiance lay with India and the huge expectations the population had from its cricketers.
It is his first tour of New Zealand since taking up the India job two years ago. “I know there is a lot at stake,” he said.
“This tour will be no different from others we have undertaken. I enjoy players’ success — no matter where they come from — and I have a huge respect for this team and the people at home in India, who as we all know, love their cricket. I’m just a simple coach and I expect a lot from these boys.”
Notable omissions from the first stage of the tour, with Tests in Wellington beginning on December 12 and Hamilton on December 19, are medium fast bowler Jawagal Srinath and leg spinner Anil Kumble.
Kumble will join the team for the one-dayers, which begin in Auckland on December 26.
The India tour was under threat because of the recent industrial action by New Zealand’s top players, but Sourav said the dispute did not concern them.
“We knew it would get sorted out at some stage,” he said. Indians start the tour with a Super Max International at Jade Stadium on Wednesday, followed by a three-day warm-up game against Central Districts before the first Test.
Wright said the team’s build-up was good and even though one or two places were up for grabs in the one-day team, the core was pretty much established.
New Zealand chief selector Sir Richard Hadlee has voiced concern over the fitness of his leading pace bowlers.
Hadlee found his bowlers badly underdone heading into the first Test on December 12, none more than young speedster Ian Butler who was ruled out of Northern Districts’ weekend game with a thigh injury.
Vice-captain Craig McMillan also underwent a scan after injuring his left wrist in the field though it doesn’t look all that bad at the moment.
Hadlee and his fellow selectors have the pace trio of Shane Bond, Butler and Daryl Tuffey in mind when the team is named next Monday.
“The guys are just so far underdone,” Hadlee said.
“The bowlers are suffering from stiffness and soreness after the weekend, and were finding it tough to back up the following day.
“Normally you’d look at around 100 first-class overs to be ready for a Test match but some of them may only have 20-30.”
Hadlee confirmed that captain Stephen Fleming would ask the Basin Reserve groundsman to have the first Test played on the new part of the wicket block which has noticeably more pace and bounce than last season.
Hadlee added Bond, who is a bit sore after Canterbury’s three-day win over Otago, and Butler were hoping to be fit for Northern’s next match against Canterbury on Thursday.
The master bowler though was happier with Tuffey’s form, having had a pre-season stint in Sydney club cricket where he took 20 wickets at less than 20 runs apiece.
He was likely to be preferred to Chris Martin, who made a quiet start for Canterbury at the weekend.
Martin, though, would probably be next in line if Butler was ruled out, while Central Districts captain Jacob Oram being eyed as a potential third seamer.
Rely on slow bowlers: Rixon
Former New Zealand coach Steve Rixon has some sound advice for the current team: “Rely more on medium pacers to unsettle the mighty Indian batting line up during the forthcoming series.”
Rixon, who coached the Black Caps during India’s last tour of New Zealand in 1998-99, said the home side should adopt a positive approach and play to the conditions to emerge successful against an “awesome” batting line-up.
“The Black Caps will have to look to their medium-pacers more than in the past,” Rixon said here.
“The Indians like the ball coming on to them and they’re very wristy players. That hasn’t changed, so New Zealand have to play to the pace of the slower wickets. Take the pace off the ball and make them work.”
Rixon also rated Tendulkar as the best batsman in the world, saying: “Some people say Matthew Hayden is the best batsman in the world but I say Sachin Tendulkar is number one.”
“They’ve had an awesome line up and opener Virender Sehwag has just added to that”, he added.