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Chilled Indians Warmed By What They See

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Fuseworks Media
Chilled Indians Warmed By What They See

By Chris Barclay of NZPA

Wellington, April 1 NZPA - India's cricketers were rugged up with their beanies on for the first time on tour today, but a glimpse of the wicket block had them leaving the Basin Reserve with a warm afterglow.

Any prospect of New Zealand pressurising the curator to produce a third test pitch to deliberately favour seam bowlers was ruled out after the Indians appraised Australian Brett Sipthorpe's work.

Since arriving in New Zealand in February the Indians have been frequently reminded of the conditions they experienced, and could not counter, on their last tour here during the summer of 2002-03.

New Zealand won the test series 2-0; India's slide started at the Basin where they were crushed by 10 wickets as Shane Bond and Daryl Tuffey exploited a green top.

Those quicks are no longer on the test scene and the pitches that reduced the likes of Virender Sehwag, Rahul Dravid, Sachin Tendulkar and VVS Laxman to mere mortals are also a fading memory.

Pitches in Hamilton and especially Napier promoted prolific run scoring and after his first scan of Friday's pitch, India's South African coach Gary Kirsten was impressed as his side tries to protect a 1-0 series lead.

"We're very happy with it. What they've done all through the tour is produce good cricket wickets," he said of the test venue's groundsmen.

"We can see there's going to be good bounce in it."

New Zealand, needing a win to prevent India's winning a series here for the first time since the pioneering side of 1967-1968, were not as impressed though the right overhead conditions could still offer the seamers some assistance.

It should certainly be a more level playing field than McLean Park, where 1400 runs were scored in the drawn second test for only 23 wickets.

History suggests another stalemate is unlikely -- there have been only two draws in 10 tests stretching back to March 2002.

The last five have resulted in victories -- New Zealand beat Sri Lanka, the West Indies and Bangladesh but lost to Sri Lanka and England.

After presiding over one of India's longest practice sessions of their visit in blustery conditions, Kirsten bristled at suggestions his side would be under instructions to safeguard their lead.

"We don't play like that, we don't do any strategising about playing for a draw, we want to win every test match," he said.

"We play flair cricket, we like to take the ball on and play aggressively. There's a risk element in that but we feel from a batting point of view the team is well balanced.

"We have guys who can bat periods of time too."

His batsmen displayed the required fortitude during their second innings at McLean Park as they converted a 314-run deficit into a 162 advantage when the second test match was drawn on Monday.

India are only likely to make one change to their line-up -- captain Mahendra Singh Dhoni seems likely to return after pulling out of the Napier test at late notice with a back injury.

New Zealand are due to welcome back Daniel Flynn to the pivotal first drop position. He batted in the nets today though his the left hand bruised by Ishant Sharma in the first test must pass a final fitness test.

Tim Southee is also in contention as a fresh seam bowling option and if he is included and New Zealand persist with two spinners, allrounder James Franklin may miss the cut with Kyle Mills.

Southee trained with the squad for the first time since the one-day series today.

New Zealand vice-captain Brendon McCullum said Southee was his usual effervescent self despite figures of 0-105 in the third ODI in Christchurch on March 4 seeing him relegated to domestic duties.

"I think it hurt him but he's learned some good lessons out if it. Timmy's great to have back in the environment. He's constantly joking and laughing."

McCullum doubted the Indians would be as severe on the 20-year-old in the test arena.

"The fact they're 1-0 up, I wouldn't think they'd be trying to force it as much as the one-dayers, though if they do it may provide an opening for us," he said.

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