SPORT

Nothing to choose between India and New Zealand

MEN WHO MATTER: Sachin Tendulkar, Virender Sehwag and Yuvraj Singh during the Indian training session at the M.A. Chidambaram Stadium in Chennai on Wednesday. — Photo: N. Sridharan (Right): New Zealand's Daryl Tuffey and Chris Harris watch the proceedings keenly. — Photo: N. Balaji

MEN WHO MATTER: Sachin Tendulkar, Virender Sehwag and Yuvraj Singh during the Indian training session at the M.A. Chidambaram Stadium in Chennai on Wednesday. — Photo: N. Sridharan (Right): New Zealand's Daryl Tuffey and Chris Harris watch the proceedings keenly. — Photo: N. Balaji  

Chennai Oct. 22. Forget the clich�s of Diwali and fireworks. The charm of limited-overs cricket is that it is not clich�d, not predictable. It's instant and instinctive.

This is a world where fortunes can change at the blink of an eye. A great delivery, a spectacular piece of fielding or a decisive thump with the willow could be all that separates the victor from the vanquished, and the high fives from the drooping shoulders.

This is especially true when evenly matched sides face off. It could well be a close thing when India meets New Zealand in the first game of the TVS triangular ODI series at the M.A. Chidambaram Stadium on Thursday. And the `elements' have ensured that the tournament lung-opener would be an intriguing contest.

After three days of cloud cover and rain, it was a welcome development when the sun finally broke through on Wednesday. But then, any guess about the weather can be hazardous.

Despite the heavy spells of rain, especially during the night, the outfield appears to be in reasonable shape thanks to the whole ground being protected by around 50 covers strung together. The super-soppers were also used.

The M.A. Chidambaram pitch is usually one of the hardest in the country which encourages strokeplay and also gives the bowlers a fair chance. It is going to be a tough call for the captain who gets it right as his decision could cut both ways. Batting might be the right option but then, there is bound to be some moisture in the pitch and some assistance for the pacemen in the early stages. This is a scenario that would please the incisive and the in-form Daryl Tuffey, who consistently probes in the `corridor,' and the sharp Zaheer Khan.

In the event of a rain threat, chasing under the lights could be fraught with danger with the much-feared Duckworth and Lewis equation coming into the picture.

Exemplary leader

As for the captains, Stephen Fleming is shrewd and smart, and his team rallies around him. He has a specific game plan and has disciplined men who can execute his ideas. The Kiwi can also turn games around with his willow.

On the other hand, Rahul Dravid had a rough ride in his first Test as skipper, but his one-day record is an impressive 3-1. Dravid said Parthiv Patel would be keeping wickets, suggesting that India would play six batsmen.

Clash of titans

Sachin Tendulkar's relationship with the M.A. Chidambaram Stadium and the crowd is a symbiotic one. The master batsman struggled to find his timing in the Test series, but given his ability he can change it all so quickly, more so at Chepauk.

Chris Cairns' seam bowling might be on the decline following knee operations, but he remains an inspirational cricketer who is one of the cleanest and biggest strikers of the ball. If Tendulkar and Cairns sizzle, sparks are bound to fly.

V.V.S. Laxman is running hot, so is Craig McMillan. Among the others, the high-octane players like Virender Sehwag, Yuvraj Singh and the tigerish Mohammed Kaif are all vital to India's chances. Lou Vincent, Scott Styris and Chris Harris symbolise the Kiwi efficiency.

The Kiwis have injury worries and the quickest bowler in their ranks, Ian Butler, will sit out of the first game due to a side strain. The big all-rounder Jacob Oram has recovered from his injury though. In the absence of the free-stroking Nathan Astle, a match-winner in the Kiwi line-up, the visitors' batting might be stretched. Also missing from the squad is the bustling pace bowling all-rounder Andre Adams.

New Zealand looks thin on the spin bowling front with left-armer Daniel Vettori being the lone specialist. Harris' assorted spin will provide the back-up. Though the Indian spin department looks better with Anil Kumble, Harbhajan Singh and left-armer Murali Kartik, the fact that the spinners were handled comfortably in the Test series is not good news for the home fans.

Paceman Avishkar Salvi failed a fitness test for a split webbing and local boy L. Balaji has replaced him in the squad. The Kiwis have left out Butler, Chris Nevin and Kyle Mills from the eleven.

The teams:

India (from): Rahul Dravid (capt.), Sachin Tendulkar, Virender Sehwag, V.V.S. Laxman, Yuvraj Singh, Mohammed Kaif, Parthiv Patel, Ajit Agarkar, Harbhajan Singh, Anil Kumble, Zaheer Khan, Murali Kartik, Hemang Badani and L. Balaji.

New Zealand: Stephen Fleming (capt.), Lou Vincent, Scott Styris, Craig McMillan, Chris Cairns, Chris Harris, Brenden McCullum, Jacob Oram, Daryl Tuffey, Daniel Vettori and Paul Hitchcock.

Umpires: D.R. Shepherd and A.V. Jayaprakash; Third umpire: I.V. Shivaram; Reserve umpire: Francis Gomes; Match referee: Ranjan Madugalle.

Hours of play: 2.30 p.m. to 6 p.m., 6.45 p.m. till end of play.

Live on AIR

The triangular series, featuring India, New Zealand and Australia, can be heard live on All India Radio.

The schedule: Oct. 23: India vs New Zealand at Chennai (2.10 p.m. to 10.30 p.m.); Oct. 26: Ind vs Australia at Gwalior (2.15 p.m. to 10.30 p.m.); Oct. 29: Aus vs NZ at Faridabad (8.45 a.m. to 5.00 p.m.); Nov. 1: Ind vs Aus at Mumbai (2.15 p.m. to 10.30 p.m.); Nov. 3: Aus vs NZ at Pune (8.45 a.m. to 5.00 p.m.); Nov. 6: Ind vs NZ at Cuttack (2.15 p.m. to 10.30 p.m.); Nov. 9: Aus vs NZ at Guwahati (8.15 a.m. to 5.00 p.m.); Nov. 12: Ind vs Aus at Bangalore (2.15 p.m. to 10.30 p.m.); Nov. 15: Ind vs NZ at Hyderabad (2.15 p.m. to 10.30 p.m.); Nov. 18: Final at Kolkata (2.15 p.m. to 10.30 p.m.).

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