As India embark on a mission to conquer Kiwi territory, it will be one of the toughest challenges to have come across this young brigade led by Mahendra Singh Dhoni. The conditions in New Zealand have proved difficult to cope with for teams from the sub-continent in the past, especially for India who have been unable to win even a single Test series there for more than 40 years.
Team India’s last win in the country came under the leadership of MAK Pataudi during their first ever tour of the nation way back in 1967. The present Indian team is, arguably, the best bunch of cricketers the country has ever produced; a fact that was evident in their thumping victories against some of the best teams in the world including Australia, England and Sri Lanka. Skipper Dhoni’s able guidance has also been a major factor behind the team’s indomitable performances. Dhoni has the ability to keep himself composed even during crunch situations and not let the team become complacent when on a winning run.
Though, he has thoroughly proved his ability and worth, the Kiwi tour will be Dhoni’s first complete overseas tour as in-charge and the Indians will want to prove a point: the recent victories against England and Sri Lanka were not achieved just because of familiar conditions.
A matter of huge concern, though, is the fact that the Indians will not play even a single practice match on the entire tour, giving the youngsters very little chance to get used to the seaming pitches and the tough ground conditions in New Zealand. Most of the players, who went on the team’s last tour to that country have since retired or are not part of the present squad. A few practice matches in such a situation would have definitely helped.
Some of the factors in India’s favour, though, are the departure of star Kiwi cricketers like Shane Bond and Daryl Tuffey, who made the visitors dance to their tunes on the team’s last tour back in 2002-03. The Indians went on to lose the one-day series 2-5, surrendering the Test series 2-0 in favour of the home team.
However, the Indian young Turks are oozing with confidence after their recent exploits and are also well equipped to give the Black Caps a run for their money. While Zaheer Khan and Ishant Sharma make up a potent new-ball bowling attack, the return of Harbhajan Singh will surely pep up the spin department.
The batting line-up, as always, is one of the best in the world with explosive openers in the form of Virender Sehwag and Gautam Gambhir. Even if the New Zealanders manage to contain the opening salvo without much damage, what lies in the middle order- with names such as Sachin Tendulkar, Yuvraj Singh and MS Dhoni adorning it- is no easy task to deal with.
This is also, probably, one of those very few instances, in its decades old cricket history, that an Indian team is travelling abroad with the favourites tag attached firmly to it instead of the home side. Whether Dhoni & Co will be able to defy history and achieve what many think of as unlikely, remains to be seen. But one thing is for sure, if they do it, the number one spot will not be far away.