Gentlemen, lay down your pleasantries.
This much-awaited India series has snuck up amid a blaze of Twenty20, and, after a low-key buildup of mutual backslaps and compliments, it was down to business in sunny Napier leading into tomorrow's first ODI at McLean Park.
India kept their thoughts to themselves after their third net practice of the week, leaving New Zealand to make their intentions clear to produce some fireworks on the pitch. Their potential success in this five-match series, 13 months out from the World Cup, demands it.
A bit of snarling, backed by some heat and accuracy in their bowling, and some decisive, carefree batting and slick fielding could get this series off on the right note for the hosts.
Anything meek and mild, as we saw in Hamilton with an ODI series on the line against West Indies, and the world's best ODI side will pounce. If there are wayward offerings it could end badly if India's crack batting lineup come with their A-game, even without a warmup match in foreign conditions.
"You have to take people head on and that's our style, we're an aggressive bunch and we like to enjoy ourselves. That's when we play our best cricket, when we play with freedom," spinner Nathan McCullum said.
"It's always been the way that myself and my brother have been brought up, to play the game aggressively and with intent. We love the challenge and love the fight, and the beauty of the New Zealand team at the moment is we're up for the fight and we're keen to be in the mix of a challenge."
That challenge doesn't get much bigger than world No 1 against world No 8, but at home New Zealand won't fear it. India are clear bookmakers favourites on a pitch that's usually full of runs, and need to win the series to remain top of the world. A New Zealand series victory will see them inch up to seventh, and India concede top spot to Australia.
Indian tours are fascinating affairs, almost as much for the off-field activities. For the most part it's extremely polite, and everyone knows who's calling the shots. New Zealand's players wheeled their own bags from practice venue to dressing room; India's were put on a trailer and transported 50m from nets to team bus by local officials as players obliged for photos then were on their way.
This first visit in five years was many months in the making after India's all-powerful board wanted originally to scrap their obligations, for reasons unknown, then finally agreed to a reduced tour with two tests rather than three at the end.
If Australia are big brother, then India are big daddy. Dollar signs flash in NZC's eyes when India arrive, for the huge television rights revenues and potential for high ticket sales.
And the New Zealand players know that match-winning performances have the potential to make them millionaires at the Indian Premier League auction next month. Just ask Australia's Glenn Maxwell.
McCullum said the team wanted to show some intent and were confident after their T20 series win, where big-hitting Luke Ronchi and speedster Adam Milne left punters thirsting for more in the 50-over format.
Milne is pushing hard for a spot to have India's top-order of Rohit Sharma, Shikhar Dhawan and Virat Kohli jumping around. And the battle of the captains in the middle order will be significant, with Dhoni the talisman with a remarkable career average of 52, while Brendon McCullum desperately needs to rediscover his dominant form of a year ago against England.
Surprisingly, just 4000 tickets had been sold last night which is only one-third of McLean Park's capacity.
- © Fairfax NZ News
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