Vettori’s men will have a very hard time if India’s batting dominance continues, writes John Wright
Chances are that India have never started a Test series in New Zealand as favourites before. However, their strong performance in the one-dayers has ensured that they begin the first Test as the team to beat.
The Test specialists, Rahul Dravid, V.V.S. Laxman and the rest, have been in New Zealand a pretty long time and though it’s been almost a week since these guys got some match practice, they are acclimatised.
I am very impressed by the calm and balance that M.S. Dhoni and the support team of Gary Kirsten and Paddy Upton have brought to this team. They seem to be enjoying themselves, soaking in the sights, sounds and adventure that is the essence of New Zealand — it’s been all good for the Indians, and they seem to be looking forward to the Test series.
I was really pleased to meet Lakshmipathy Balaji, who made his international debut when I was with the team. He was a dear guy, and such a pleasure to coach, so I am happy that he has a chance to stage a comeback. If it’s a toss-up between him and Munaf Patel for the third seamer, the indications are that the team might go with Balaji.
The wicket at Seddon Park in Hamilton is pretty hard and looks a good batting one. I remember in 2003, I could stick my thumb into the wicket, it was that soft and grassy. This time round, there will be bounce and movement, particularly in the first two hours, but once you get past that, it improves into a good batting track.
For the Indians, it’s got to be a four-word plan — bat once, bat big. They should opt to bat, if they have won the toss, because they must back their formidable batting line-up to see them through the first couple of hours. The Indians should expect a little more bounce in the wickets, and they did have trouble adjusting to it in the Auckland game. Also, we are approaching autumn and the light will come into the equation as we move into the next two Tests. I expect the next two Tests will be affected by fading light, and I am sure both Dhoni and Daniel Vettori will be aware of this.
Therefore the first Test, which is usually crucial, becomes a must-win game for both sides. Neither would want to be 0-1 down with the clear chance of the next two games being truncated.
Test cricket does not really hinge on any one aspect, but I feel that if India manage to take their batting dominance from the one-dayers into the Tests, Vettori & Co. will have a very hard time of it. Which is why I repeat, India’s aim should be to only bat once and bat big, which is a score over 400.