The tour to New Zealand is very significant for India. The ICC rankings table may place India way above the Kiwis, but playing at home seems to have a significant advantage, even though players these days are far more familiar with overseas conditions.
They should now be quite comfortable playing abroad, but the results in 2013 have clearly indicated that teams flourish significantly when they play in their own backyard.
The visit to New Zealand will give India a good indication of the quality of their young batsmen and the ability of their bowlers to adapt to swing and seam-friendly conditions. The selectors have done a good job in including all the young and talented fast bowlers in the squad.
India will be playing three qualifying matches during the World Cup in 2015 in New Zealand and could also play a quarter- or semi-final match there. Apart from the players, the support staff will need to learn and document every aspect of the conditions for India to defend their title next year.
The Indians will need to take advantage of this tour to fine tune their stroke-play, defence and technique. The BCCI has done well to ensure that the side is touring at a time of the year that’s similar to the World Cup, as this will give them all the knowledge and experience to tackle the situation later.
New Zealand, historically, has been a difficult country to win a series against, especially for countries from the tropics. The wind and the freezing cold conditions keep the wicket fresh and moist, and the unfamiliar weather and playing conditions have sounded a death knell for several international touring sides.
India, in 1967, had their first overseas win there but, in the overall context, have not done wonders thereafter. However, when they last played a series in New Zealand in 2008-09 under the leadership of M. S. Dhoni, India did well, which should give them a boost of confidence.
New Zealand, on the other hand, have had success against the West Indies recently and the emergence of some talented young cricketers and the return to form of the established batsmen like Ross Taylor and Brendon McCullum are some good signs in the progress of their cricket.
The old hands of New Zealand cricket are all quite familiar with the Indian players because of the IPL and so the surprise factor will be quite insignificant.
New Zealand are definitely the underdogs against the strong Indian ODI side and therefore, have much more to gain and far less pressure to win. This may make them more aggressive and innovative and there could be plenty of short-pitch bowling and on-field banter to gain some advantage.
I feel the series will be a close battle and India, on the strength of their batting, should have a clear edge, but then, cricket is a game of uncertainty and somehow logic does not play a part in it.
(The writer is a former Test cricketer)
The straight boundaries are quite long so if you are hitting there against the wind then there are chances that you have got another extra ten yards. All that makes it quite crucial. So you have to be intelligent about it, which areas you want to pick. — MS Dhoni on the batting conditions in NZ.