New Zealand seek confidence boost against India

Two months ago, New Zealand sank to a nine-wicket defeat at the MA Chidambaram Stadium in Chennai that completed a 0-5 one-day series loss to an India team that was without six first-choice players. That result extended a losing sequence to 11 matches, and prompted a shake-up which included John Wright’s installation as coach. New Zealand are now back at the MA Chidambaram for another crack at a near full-strength Indian team.

In his pre-match press conference, John Wright was very measured, taking his time to choose the exact words he wanted for his answers. He acknowledged that a good performance against India would be hugely encouraging ahead of the World Cup.

“India have played very well against New Zealand. We know that if we are to compete with India we have to play some really good cricket; this is a much bigger game for us [than the first warm-up game], because we were playing against Ireland, so for us this is a huge opportunity,” he said. “If we can perform well, it will be a great boost for our confidence. We’d be delighted to meet them [India] in a non-friendly game later in the tournament.”

New Zealand have lost both the Tests and one-dayers in a home series against Pakistan since Wright took over after public clamour for his appointment, and he said the team’s fortunes won’t change overnight. “From a technical point of view, changes at this level take a long time,” he said. “So I’ve just got to help the boys work on their self-belief.”

He also thought there were some positives in taking over so close to the World Cup. “Sometimes it’s good to come in when you are new, a fresh face and you get a little bit of a honeymoon period not only with the public, but sometimes with the players.”

Wright barely had to reflect on his current team during a 25-minute interaction when he was inundated with questions on his five-year spell as India coach that ended in 2005, whether he would consider becoming India coach sometime in the future, the run to the 2003 final, whether India had the maturity to deal with the oversized public expectations in the World Cup, and so on.

He himself “wasn’t reading too much into” his time in India and whether it would assist New Zealand’s preparations. “It’s helpful in some respects; particularly knowing conditions, perhaps, gives me a little bit of a background,” he said. “That’s only a small thing to be honest, I think the main role is helping the players play better cricket.”

One of the challenges for New Zealand on Wednesday would be taming the Indian batting, which is filled with potential match-winners. Scott Styris felt the key would be to keep attacking the batsmen, even if the runs were flowing. “The Indian top six is a very good top six,” he said. “You can’t get flustered if they do come after you. As soon as you sit back and allow them to dictate terms you have lost the battle. If you continually put pressure on them, quite often at home, especially with a lot of passionate fans around, that can work in your favour.”

India won their previous warm-up match, against Australia thanks to their spinners, and the Chennai track had plenty of assistance for the slow bowlers in the last game here. Ross Taylor, the vice-captain, thought the India game would indicate where New Zealand stand. “Spin is going to be a big part of this World Cup,” Taylor said. “The way we bowl spin, and the way we play spin is going to be a big part of how successful we will be as a team. Playing against India will be a good test of where we are as a team.”


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