India's tour to New Zealand is starting with five T20Is four days after their last game against Australia in Bengaluru. The journey to New Zealand is a long one and the time difference between the two countries is over seven hours. It goes without saying that there's hardly enough time for the players to recuperate from an intense and closely contested series against Australia and to get used to the new time zone.
Jet lag? What's that? This is the new reality of international cricket and there's no point complaining about it anymore. The message is loud and clear - if you feel fatigued, take a break. Times have changed so much that the absence of Virat Kohli and Rohit Sharma in some limited-overs matches is no longer frowned upon.
These five T20Is will be played in four different cities across ten days. The good thing about the schedule is that all the games are in North Island, and barring a flight from Hamilton to Wellington, the distances between the cities aren't huge. But all four venues will present different challenges to the players, since the dimensions, wind factor and the nature of the pitches vary quite a bit.
Eden Park, Auckland
The venue for the first two matches has a wonderful vibe and a good game of cricket is guaranteed to be a spectacle. The straight boundaries are very short (some believe too short for an international game) and that brings the crowd really close to the action.
The dimensions of the ground challenge not only the players' individual skills and game plans but also force the captains to realign field positions from the norm. It's important to work out the angles while setting the field at this venue because the fielder at third man or fine leg or straight down the ground must stay really straight - almost behind the keeper or the bowler. It might look and feel bizarre but that's is what the ground calls for.
Bowlers must also alter their lengths radically to make sure batsmen don't target the short straight boundaries easily. The fact that the boundary line is not too far behind the 30-yard circle encourages batsmen to target that part of the ground. And it's incredible to see how short grounds lead to really long sixes. Knowing you are very likely to clear the fence gives you the confidence to go even harder than you might at larger grounds.
Bowlers need to shorten their length and change their lines frequently to avoid getting lined up easily.
For the batsman, while the temptation to go aerial down the ground is difficult to resist, they must take the extra bounce into account. If the ball hits higher on the bat, it isn't easy to clear the 30-yard circle.
Seddon Park, Hamilton
Hamilton is only an hour and a half's drive from Auckland. Seddon Park has a unique square in that the two pitches on it have radically different surfaces. One offers a lot of lateral movement and a little bit of spongy bounce while the other is fairly flat. The ground's dimensions aren't odd like Eden Park's, but one side becomes a little longer depending on which pitch is on.
But more than the dimensions, it's the nature of the surface that you must decipher before making your plans. The one used during India's ODI last January swung bananas and India were too late to realise that it was a 210 kind of pitch, not the 280 one they thought they were batting on (they ended up being bowled out for 92, Trent Boult taking 5 for 21).
Westpac Stadium, Wellington
The windy capital of New Zealand has two international grounds - the Basin Reserve and the Westpac Stadium. While the Basin still hosts Test cricket, white-ball cricket has moved to the new stadium, where you don't feel the effect of the wind as much. Once in a while high catches swirl a little but the wind velocity and direction, which plays an important role at some grounds, doesn't have much impact at the ground level here; as a batsman, you can target either boundary regardless of which way it is blowing.
If the pitch is green and tacky, it is better to play close to the body and bide your time. If it's brown and dry, you could be in for a high-scoring game.
Bay Oval, Mount Maunganui
This is a beautiful ground in the city of Tauranga, and like most grounds in New Zealand, the stands will be filled with India supporters. The ground is open on all sides and the wind plays a significant role in deciding which end to bowl from and which boundaries to target. Players must try to take advantage of the conditions instead of fighting them - there's no sense in making a 65-yard boundary feel like 85.
The pitch is similar to those in India, so in this series, it won't demand a lot of change in tactics from Kohli and Co.