Swing and seam will be the order of the day

R. Ashwin will be keen to regain his spot as the lead spinner. He also has the wherewithal to bat under seaming conditions.-K.R. DEEPAK

India’s campaign in New Zealand could give some valuable pointers for the future. By S. Dinakar.

New Zealand is expected to prepare green, seaming pitches for the Test series. Kiwi coach Mike Hesson has made it clear that the host would play to its strength — pace bowling.

While the preparation of such tracks can cut both ways for New Zealand — the Indian pace attack can inflict considerable damage too — it is sure to test the technical attributes of an emerging Indian line-up.

While the performances of a few Indian batsmen were encouraging in South Africa, the wickets prepared for the series — a good batting track at the Wanderers and a slow, turning pitch at Durban that would have put a sub-continental surface to shame — meant the Indian batsmen were not probed enough.

That was the most disappointing aspect of the series. For instance, when South Africa visits India, its batsmen should have their skills examined on surfaces that offer turn and bounce.

And the Indians, when they tour South Africa, should be up against lift and seam movement on lively tracks. International cricketers have to be challenged in different conditions.

That did not happen and our verdicts on the young batsmen will have to wait. India could get some answers on the New Zealand tour if the curators listen to Hesson.

New Zealand might not have bowlers of Dale Steyn or Morne Morkel calibre but the country possess a feisty pace attack where left-armer Trent Boult and swing bowler Tim Southee don prominent roles.

Wellington, the venue for the second Test, is likely to sport a green top. The stiff breeze at the famous Basin Reserve assists movement in the air while the moisture on the wicket lends added nip to the ball.

Auckland, where the first Test will be held, could have a drop-in surface that might offer something to the spinners in the later stages. Yet, swing, seam and bounce will be a distinct threat.

New Zealand has traditionally been a tough place to tour for India. The weather can be very cold and the ball buzzes around.

India did win 1-0 in 2008-09 series but that was a period when the Indian cricket was peaking while New Zealand was a struggling side.

Now, after the departure of the formidable Sachin Tendulkar, Rahul Dravid, and V.V.S. Laxman, India is rebuilding. New Zealand has shown some signs of settling down, under the mercurial Brendon McCullum. Crucially, key batsman Ross Taylor has regained form and the talented Kane Williamson is stroking well.

With its telling pace attack — the Kiwis outplayed the West Indies 2-0 at home this season — New Zealand is definitely a combative adversary in familiar conditions.

This will be a big tour for left-handed opener Shikhar Dhawan; he has issues with footwork. Dhawan, who disappointed in South Africa, has the shots but needs to tighten other aspects of his game.

M. Vijay was solid in the first innings at Durban but could be relentlessly probed in the corridor by the Kiwi pacemen. Opening the batting and the No. 3 slot are the hardest positions to bat in these conditions.

Of course, the Indian batting will rely on Cheteshwar Pujara. His methods are right and his temperament unflappable. Interestingly, New Zealand is a country where his idol Rahul Dravid built several monuments.

Like Pujara, Virat Kohli lacks neither spirit nor ability. He’s a fighter and a counter-puncher.

Ajinkya Rahane too was among the runs in South Africa. He is a diminutive batsman with a sense of timing. However, Rohit Sharma missed out and will be under some pressure in New Zealand. He has to curb his tendency to play across deliveries that hold their line.

Tim Southee is quite formidable at home.-K. RAMESH BABU

It will be a good competition for what could be the lone spinner’s slot — Ravindra Jadeja scalped six with his left-arm spin in Durban but R. Ashwin will be keen to regain his spot.

On the Kiwi tracks, though, an off-spinner who extracts bounce could be a better option. Technically, Ashwin is among the better Indian batsmen against movement. He is sure about his off-stump and hits the ball straight.

In fact, it might not be such a bad idea for Mahendra Singh Dhoni, especially during away tours, to promote himself to the No. 6 slot and have all-rounders Ashwin and Jadeja at No. 7 and 8. It is a scenario where India can actually play three pacemen and two spinners.

This will help Dhoni to build an innings rather than battle with the tail.

Zaheer Khan’s experience and craft, Ishant Sharma’s stamina and bounce and Mohammed Shami’s heart and skiddish pace could dent the Kiwi line-up. However, the think-tank has to keep Umesh Yadav in the mix. He is a precious bowler with speed and reverse swing.

The five-match ODI series preceding the Tests should witness plenty of action. The 2015 ICC World Cup will be held in Australia and New Zealand and the series should provide Dhoni’s men valuable practice.

There are some interesting changes in the squad. Stuart Binny, a hard-hitting batsman who sends down handy medium pace, is being tried out.

The lanky Ishwar Pandey seams the ball around from the off-stump line. Pandey, who has impressed for India ‘A’ and scalped aplenty in the domestic circuit, features in both the Test and the ODI squads.

Varun Aaron makes a comeback after his travails with a stress fracture on the back. He has speed and intent. At some point in the series, all three are likely to receive an opportunity.

India has stroke-makers but to win in New Zealand, the batsmen have to be judicious while playing their shots. Will Dhawan regain some momentum in the ODI series? And will Suresh Raina make a bigger push for the No. 4 slot that Dhoni could have earmarked for him in the World Cup?

New Zealand is a versatile outfit in the shorter format. The side can punch above its weight and the return of the controversial but gifted Jesse Ryder has added another dimension to the side.

Brendon McCullum, Martin Guptill, Ryder, Williamson, Taylor and the heavy-hitting Corey Anderson make this a side that can set stiff targets and chase with panache.

Anderson’s fastest hundred in ODI history — against the West Indies at Queenstown — was a blitzkrieg of the rare kind. This Kiwi can also send down brisk left-arm medium pace. Watch for left-arm paceman Mitchell McClenaghan. He has been outstanding for the Kiwis in the ODI format with his variety and the ability to hold nerve.

India’s campaign in New Zealand could give some valuable pointers for the future.

ITINERARY January 19: First ODI, McLean Park, Napier.

January 22: Second ODI, Seddon Park, Hamilton.

January 25: Third ODI, Eden Park, Auckland.

January 28: Fourth ODI, Seddon Park, Hamilton.

January 31: Fifth ODI, Westpac Stadium, Wellington.

February 2 and 3: TBC v Indians, Cobham Oval (New), Whangarei.

February 6 to 10: First Test, Eden Park, Auckland.

February 14 to 18: Second Test, Basin Reserve, Wellington.