S. Ram Mahesh
The conditions at McLean Park expected to aid batsmen
Napier: The weather in this sleepy town has turned dramatically. First the rain relented. Then the mist that had clung like gauze to the green hills lifted. By Monday afternoon, when the Indian team trooped out to practice, the sun was beating down with a familiar intensity.
“It’s nice and warm, just like India,” said M.S. Dhoni, the Indian captain. “Hopefully it’ll stay the same.”
Changes in weather don’t always trigger changes in fortune, but it’s as good a peg as any to hang a piece previewing the first One-Day International between New Zealand and India, so why pass it up?
India, beaten in both Twenty20 Internationals, hasn’t started the tour as it would have liked. The batsmen had trouble pacing the innings in both games, and although the bowlers fought back admirably in the second game, they couldn’t ward off defeat.
But the change of format might allow India the leeway it needs to settle, and as New Zealand captain Daniel Vettori pointed out, this touring side has the ability to transform rapidly.
Difficult to stop
“The way the Indian team plays is they come out and play with freedom,” said Vettori, “and once they get on a roll they are difficult to stop. At the moment, the roll is with us; we just got to make sure that we keep putting them under pressure because they have so many good stroke-makers that they can take it away from us very quickly. We are wary of their ability to bounce back pretty quickly.
India, however, will be without the services of fast-bowler Ishant Sharma, yet to recover completely from the shoulder injury he suffered at Wellington.
Dhoni said there was no point playing Ishant at the risk of aggravating the injury; it’s a long tour, and an eye must always be trained on the big picture.
Sachin Tendulkar will be on display for the first time this tour.
“For an opposition, there are a lot of things you have to be careful about with him,” said Dhoni. “Not just the fact that he’s a very talented and aggressive cricketer, but the number of ideas he has. The contribution he makes from his experience is amazing, and he completely changes the dressing room atmosphere.”
Plans for Tendulkar
Vettori said New Zealand had plans for Tendulkar, but the execution had to be inch-perfect. “I suppose for a lot of our younger guys, he could almost be their favourite player when they were growing up,” said Vettori.
“Guys always have various stories of sitting around and watching Sachin play. But you have to quickly get past the fact that you’re playing a boyhood hero. We asked our bowlers to step up right through the Twenty20s, and they’ll have to do the same, or get hurt.”
The conditions here at McLean Park are expected to aid the batsmen.
The strip, rolled diligently, is what the locals call a belter, and the outfield, shorn of excess length, will allow the ball to travel. The square boundaries are short as well. No surprises then that Vettori situated the par total between 280 and 300.
He added though that the lights aren’t the best he has seen; it will, he said, make the chase interesting.
Surprisingly for the batting firepower the sides possess, both captains spoke of attacking the non-regulars, the motley bunch that will make up the fifth bowlers quota.
New Zealand will look to eke out a few overs from Jacob Oram, but it still appears a quality fast-bowler short. Dhoni didn’t say who Ishant would be replaced by (presumably Munaf Patel or Praveen Kumar), but he did say that everyone who could roll his arm over was bowling-ready.
Different ball game
New Zealand was the better team twice over 40 overs. Usually when the duration of the contest lengthens, the difference between the contestants grows more apparent.
It says much about this young, exciting New Zealand side, that it suffers little in comparison with a team that only recently strung together nine successive ODI wins.
The teams (from):
New Zealand: Daniel Vettori (Capt.), Brendon McCullum (wk), Jesse Ryder, Martin Guptill, Ross Taylor, Neil Broom, Grant Elliott, Kyle Mills, Iain OBrien, Jacob Oram, Ian Butler, and Tim Southee.
India: M.S. Dhoni (Capt. & wk), Virender Sehwag, Gautam Gambhir, Sachin Tendulkar, Yuvraj Singh, Yusuf Pathan, Rohit Sharma, Suresh Raina, Harbhajan Singh, Zaheer Khan, Irfan Pathan, Munaf Patel, Pragyan Ojha, Praveen Kumar, Ishant Sharma, and Dinesh Karthik.
Umpires: Rudi Koertzen and Tony Hill. Third umpire: Gary Baxter. Match referee: Ranjan Madugalle.
Hours of play (IST): 6.30 a.m. to 10 a.m. and 10.45 a.m. till end of play.