Believe it or not – but the last time India won a test in New Zealand, most of us weren't even born. It was the 1975-1976 series and in complete contrast to the Australian or West Indian way of knocking down opponents through sheer pace, the guile and craft of Chandrasekhar and Prasanna saw us take a short lived lead at Auckland in the three match series. Since then, even if India may boast of an improved overseas record in the last decade, they are yet to stage a successful conquest of J.R.R Tolkien's vivid yet mythical Middle Earth.
Last time around on tour in early 2003, the Indians felt that they had been done in with pitches that seemed to have a jack-in-the-box effect every time the ball landed anywhere on the twenty two yard strip. Both tests were completed within three full days of play and the highest score registered by an Indian batsman was a resilient 76 by Rahul Dravid in the first innings of the first test. Sourav Ganguly, the skipper cried foul, as is natural to all batting captains when batsmen aren't provided the comfort of a sporting wicket (read flat track).
So what lies in store this time round for the Indians? A series victory seems to be the case on paper, but given the vagaries of sport anything is possible. Critics who hailed the South African team that beat Australia down under, a couple of months ago, as the best South African side ever, are now having to eat humble pie with the results of the ongoing test series between the two sides. However, the Indians have good reason not to fear the same destiny as the Proteas, given the inexperience of their hosts in the longest format of the game.
Over the last 25 years, New Zealand has always enjoyed the services of some great to above average fast bowlers to make the most of home conditions. Richard Hadlee in the 1980's, Danny Morrison and Dion Nash in the early to late 1990's and a combination of Shane Bond, Daryl Tuffey and Jacob Oram on the last tour have denied India on each occasion a Kiwi treat. This time round New Zealand's most experienced campaigner in the bowling department is their skipper Daniel Vettori and even while he is a most potent spinner in the orthodox style, the Kiwis cannot hope to have him deliver the opening breakthroughs. For that task Kyle Mills, Chris Martin or James Franklin will have to bowl out of their skins and look to the Indian batsmen to commit hara-kiri.
India should win. They have the superior batting line up and with the old hands (Dravid and Laxman) coming back into the side the youngsters should feed of their experience to counter the conditions. The only problem and this has been India's Achilles' for some time now is the absence of a stable third seamer. Munaf or Balaji would be in the reckoning for this spot for the first test, but one should not be surprised if it turns out to be a game of musical chairs by the end of the series with Dhawal Kulkarni also being tested in this role.
Given the inclement weather in New Zealand, it would be surprising if all three matches produce results. A 2-0 win for India seems par for the course, but it is not beyond the men in blue to put in an utterly disastrous performance over the course of a couple of sessions in a match that costs them a series win. It happened at Melbourne in Australia in 2003-04 and in South Africa on the tour of 2006 after series leading, jaw dropping victories had been sculpted. Nagpur 2008 almost saw an encore before some baffling captaincy by Ponting and an aggressive partnership between Harbhajan and Dhoni saved India the blushes.Hopefully, the ghosts of the past shall not haunt this Indian side, who seem to be serious about rewriting records against all opposition.
And so as history beckons yet again, skipper Dhoni would do well to remind his lads of the words of Gandalf in the Fellowship of the Ring - 'All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us