The home team is odds-on favourite

Icy winds in New Zealand and dusty bowls in India... the cricketers of two nations, India and New Zealand, had played in varied conditions and challenges.

VIJAY LOKAPALLY

Icy winds in New Zealand and dusty bowls in India... the cricketers of two nations, India and New Zealand, had played in varied conditions and challenges. So far they have played 14 Test series between them. One cannot say all of them produced quality cricket, but some of the contests were close.

When New Zealand toured India the last time in 1999-2000, Sachin Tendulkar came up with a double hundred in the final Test at Ahmedabad. — Pic. V. V. KRISHNAN-

The first India-New Zealand series was played in 1955-56 with the former hosting five Tests. It was the only time that an India-New Zealand series comprised five Tests. The next series was again in India, nine years later, and once again the home team was the winner.

It may have taken a long time for India and New Zealand to resume their cricketing ties but the high-scoring first ever Test between them signified the occasion at the Fateh Maidan in Hyderabad. India had an array of batsmen in Vinoo Mankad, Pankaj Roy, Polly Umrigar, Vijay Manjrekar, G. S. Ramchand and A. G. Kripal Singh. The Indians were favoured to excel and they did so by dominating the series.

A double century by Umrigar (223) was the highlight of the first Test in which Manjrekar and Kripal too came up with hundreds. The Kiwis managed to draw the Test and the credit should go to John Guy (102) and Bert Sutcliffe even as leg-spinner Subhash Gupte spun a vicious web, claiming seven wickets in the first innings. But the Kiwi batsmen defied the Indians in the second innings and forced an honourable draw.

A packed Brabourne Stadium watched the Indians crush New Zealand by an innings at Bombay. Mankad's 223 formed the base for Gupte to play havoc again, this time his haul being eight wickets for the match. Gupte left a big mark on the series and it was only in the Delhi Test that he failed to take five wickets in an innings. He was the architect of India's victory in the fifth Test at Chennai when the home team won by an innings. The Kiwis had no clue to Gupte's guile, even though they had two leg-spinners in their team. The team also had two great batsmen in Sutcliffe and John Reid. These two batsmen gave their best, but lacked support from the rest. The Kiwis were destroyed by the spin of Gupte. He was the star of the series, no doubt, even though New Zealand could draw solace from a superb double century by Sutcliffe in the third Test at Delhi.

The next time the Kiwis toured India, the team did well to draw the first three Tests. The team now had to contend with Dilip Sardesai, M. L. Jaisimha, Farookh Engineer, Chandu Borde, Mansur Ali Khan Pataudi, Hanumant Singh. The most outstanding batting performance came from Sardesai, who hit an unbeaten double century at Bombay and followed it with a century at Delhi when India won by seven wickets. Indian cricket had now discovered a new spin star in S. Venkataraghavan, who claimed eight wickets in the first innings and four in the second even as Bhagwat Chandrasekhar supported him well.

India maintained its supremacy by winning its first-ever series overseas. By wining the series 3-1, India only reconfirmed its domination as all four Tests produced results. The Indians won the opener at Dunedin with Erapalli Prasanna and Abid Ali sharing the bowling honours. The Indians were swept aside at Christchurch by seamers Dick Motz (6/63) and Gary Bartlett (6/38). Graham Dowling came up with a fine 239. The Indians won the next two Tests at Wellington and Auckland with Ajit Wadekar producing 143 at Basin Reserve, the only Indian to hit a century in the series. For New Zealand, Dowling was the only one to cross the three-figure mark, making 143 in the opening Test followed by the double century.

Anil Kumble led India to victory during the last home series against New Zealand. India will pin its hopes on the ace spinner this time as well. — Pic. V. V. KRISHNAN-

New Zealand shocked the Indians by drawing the series when it visited the sub-continent in 1969-70. It was a shocker in the true sense since India was expected to dominate the series. It was a series with bowlers dictating the terms and no batsman, on either side, could hit a century in the three Tests, at Bombay, Nagpur and Hyderabad. The Indian batsmen were inconsistent and the highest individual score was 67 by Pataudi. The Kiwis were well served by seamers Dayle Hadlee and Bob Cunis and left-am spinner Hedley Howarth. The Indians were lucky to escape with a draw at Hyderabad — shot out for 89 in the first innings and struggling at 76 for seven when a thunderstorm washed away the Kiwi hopes. The visiting captain, Graham Dowling, joined the groundstaff in an effort to dry the ground.

It took six years before India flew to New Zealand for a three-Test assignment. The Indians began well by winning the first Test at Auckland with centuries by Sunil Gavaskar and debutante Surinder Amarnath. Eight wickets by Chandrasekhar and 11 by Prasanna completed the rout as Indian won convincingly. A draw at Christchurch put pressure on the Kiwis who managed to pull off an innings victory at Wellington with the damage being done by Richard Hadlee, who claimed four wickets in the first innings and seven in the second. The great Kiwi seamer destroyed a strong Indian batting line up of Gavaskar, Dilip Vengsarkar, Surinder Amarnath, G. R. Visvanath, Brijesh Patel and Mohinder Amarnath with a lethal display of movement.

When New Zealand visited India in 1976-77, the home team was well prepared and wrapped up the three-match series 2-0, the victories coming at Bombay (162 runs) and Madras (216 runs). The spin trio of Chandrasekhar, Venkataraghavan and Bishan Singh Bedi plotted the fall of New Zealand, which offered resistance through John Parker and Glenn Turner.

It was now New Zealand's best chance and it grabbed it by claiming the honours in 1980-81 when it beat India at home, after a wait of six series. A brilliant 137 by Geoff Howarth swung the game New Zealand's way in the opening match at Wellington while Lance Cairns, Hadlee and Martin Snedden excelled with the ball. The second Test at Christchurch was ruined by rain and the last match at Auckland saw some excitement on the final day when New Zealand battled to force a draw. This was a series marred by some poor umpiring.

New Zealand will definitely miss the services of pace ace Shane Bond. -- Pic. V. GANESAN-

In 1988-89, India won the home series 2-1, the victories coming at Bangalore and Hyderabad but a defeat at Bombay, with off-spinner John Bracewell doing the damage. Hadlee too excelled in that match. Off-spinner Arshad Ayub took the honours at Bangalore with eight wickets, while Navjot Sidhu hit a century, but Bracewell and Hadlee (6/49 and 4/39) squared the series at Bombay before India won by 10 wickets in the decider, once again Ayub shining along with leg-spinner Narendra Hirwani.

Bedi was the coach of the team which lost 0-1 in New Zealand, drawing two matches, in 1989-90. "Throw them in the Pacific'' was the lashing comment from Bedi when the team lost the opener at Christchurch. Hadlee, Danny Morrison, Snedden and Bracewell were the wreckers. The second Test at Napier was marred by rain and the third at Auckland too failed to produce result. This match was made memorable by some scintillating stuff from Mohammed Azharuddin who hammered 192 in rapid time. But the series loss showed India in poor light. Four years later, the one-off Test was a drawn encounter.

When India hosted New Zealand in 1995-96, it won the series 1-0 but rain played spoil sport during that series. After winning at Bangalore, with Javagal Srinath, Anil Kumble and Venkatapathy Raju sharing the bowling honours, there was rain during Madras Test. Frequent spells of rain stopped play on all the days with India not even completing the first innings (144/2). The third Test at Cuttack was no different. The highlight of the match was Hirwani's six-wicket haul after being recalled to Test cricket and Mark Greatbatch's half-century, the only fifty-plus knock by a batsman in this rain-ruined match.

When Azharuddin led a strong Indian challenge to New Zealand in 1998-99, it was believed that the home team would be hard pressed to prevent the visiting team from winning the series. It was seen as India's best chance in years to win a series overseas but the famed batting collapsed in one session. It was a tour, which saw Rahul Dravid revive his one-day career, thanks mainly to Azharuddin who vacated his number three slot for the Karnataka batsman.

Daryl Tuffey (second from left) is jubilant after a strike in the second Test in Hamilton. New Zealand seamers revelled in the under-prepared pitches in the 2002-03 home series against India. --Pic. N. BALAJI-

If ever a spell decided the course of a match, it came from Simon Doull who packed off Sidhu, Ajay Jadeja, Dravid and Sourav Ganguly to swing the contest the home team's way at Wellington after the first Test at Dunedin had been abandoned without a ball being bowled. Doull claimed seven wickets to shatter the Indian hopes and a poor shot by Sachin Tendulkar in the second innings nullified his brilliant century. Azharuddin too hit a century in the first innings but victory went the Kiwis's way, which gained immensely from Dion Nash's unbeaten 89 at number eight.

The Indians had lost many chances in this match and a draw at Hamilton in the next match was no consolation, despite Dravid cornering glory with knocks of 190 and 103 not out. The Indians were disappointing in the one-day series too but the Test loss at Wellington would always haunt the side.

New Zealand visited India in 1999-00 and created sensation on the opening day of the series at Mohali. It was Kapil Dev's first day as coach and the Indians were shot out for a paltry 83 with Nash claiming six wickets. The home team recovered in the second innings through centuries from Dravid and Tendulkar, but it was the collapse on the opening day that left a mark on the series. Thanks to Kumble's guile on a helpful track, the home team won the Test at Kanpur but drew the final one at Ahmedabad where Tendulkar compiled a double century.

India's visit to New Zealand in 2002-03, just before the World Cup, was a nightmare. The Kiwi seamers, on under-prepared pitches, exposed the famed batting line up of Tendulkar, Dravid, Ganguly and Virender Sehwag. The playing surface was not suitable for Test cricket, bemoaned the India skipper Ganguly, but then the conditions were similar for both the teams. New Zealand grabbed the chances and came out winner in both the Tests. It was no doubt one of India's worst shows overseas for a long time.

The debacle of the last visit to New Zealand will form the backdrop of the coming series with the home team likely to exploit the weakness of the Kiwi batsmen against spin.

Instructions have been issued to that extent despite all the talk of having sporting tracks. With Shane Bond and Chris Cairns missing from the Kiwi ranks, this would have been the best stage for India to play on pitches not completely conducive to its spinners. The emphasis on pace has been obvious in recent times and it will be a pity if the likes of Zaheer Khan, L. Balaji, Avishkar Salvi are not provided with pitches of their choice.

The two-Test series, with matches at Mohali and Ahmedabad, would be a pointer for the shape of things to come this season with the tour to Australia being the main focus.