Once more New Zealand finds itself on the eve of a mini-test series surrounded by a set of unknowns.
Much is made in the media of the players not learning from past mistakes, but what about the people who organise these ventures?
This site said it at the time, and the NZ Herald has picked up on it subsequently, but international tours in the off-season with no build-up matches are simply crazy. That lack of build-up before the tour of Florida and the West Indies after a three month hiatus for most of the players was badly exposed. Lack of form and match practice coupled with an extraordinary injury toll meant that tour was a shocker.
Apparently financial reasons were the reason for this, but it is the shop window we are talking about here. Really, it’s a blindingly obvious investment.
So you’d think they would learn? The three week gap between the two tours provided the perfect opportunity to gain form, acclimatise to Indian conditions, get the players functioning as a unit and to settle the full hand of selection issues facing the management team.
One change that has been announced is that McCullum will revert to opening the innings; a decision presumably made somewhere over the Australian Outback. Changing the batting order can be a bit tricky at the best of times let alone in a test match after a three week break.
Logic would dictate that either Flynn or Watling will bat at #3 although there is talk of Williamson (someone desperately needing time in the middle) might get promoted up the order. Let’s not go there.
Which brings us on to the keeping dilemma. Van Wyk talks the talk but has yet to deliver in five tests. And his premeditated sweep in the second innings in Jamaica when the innings was on the slide was a droppable offence. Watling is the obvious replacement, and would help the team balance, but it would be a bold move to throw him straight into a test match when he would be likely to be spending a fair bit of time behind the stumps.
The curious career of James Franklin continues with his replacement of Brownlie on the back of some good T20 form in India in April. Seriously; that’s what constitutes a build-up in 2012. Who knows whether he is a genuine option at #6 or there is cover for a range of scenarios.
But, given this is India the bulk of the bowling is likely to come from the spin bowlers. Jeetan Patel, who had a couple of dreadful years in 2010/11, highlighted by gifting Peter Ingram a brief test career, found some form at the back end of this year’s Plunket Shield and has then played well for Warwickshire. But India’s a different scenario; it’s a long way from Birmingham.
Nethula, the latest in a long line of New Zealand’s long quest for a quality legspinner struggled in the West Indies. Should he make his debut here he will be bowling against the best batsmen of spin going around. Oh for a build-up game to see how he would cope.
The most solid looking part of the team over the last few years has been the seam attack. Remember Hobart? There are five of them here; and we never got to the bottom of why Martin was left out of the Kingston test, but the chances are that only two will play in the first test. Remind us; who’s in form again?
On the bright side, India are also coming in cold and are without Dravid and Laxman who between them have roughly double the number of test runs as the combined NZ team. But this really is asking too much; let’s hope we come out of it with dignity.