| India captain Sourav Ganguly and coach John Wright during practice at the Basin Reserve in Wellington Tuesday. (AP/PTI)
Wellington: Though the Indian team is confident of performing well in the Tests against the Black Caps, coach John Wright still feels the hosts start with an advantage in the two-match series starting here on Thursday.
“We are not worried about our lack of cricket here. We are just focussing on adapting to the conditions, but I’m sure New Zealand will start favourites,” the India coach said.
“When we beat England at Headingley this summer, it was the most sporting wicket of the series, so we’re not too fazed by what lies ahead,” he said. “We’ve played a lot of cricket this year. This is the fourth country we’ve been in. So adapting is the key,” Wright was quoted in a local daily.
Opening batsman Sanjay Bangar, who has been on the winning side in seven of his ten Tests, played down the possibility of having a torrid opening few overs from New Zealand spearhead Shane Bond. “I haven’t seen much of him but it is what you do, not what he does,” said Bangar. “We are mentally prepared for anything,” he said.
Zaheer among four to skip nets
Zaheer Khan, still recovering from the bruise on his right knee sustained during India’s Super Max game last week, skipped practice, which was held in extremely windy conditions. Other than the left-arm seamer, Sachin Tendulkar, V.V.S. Laxman and Ajit Agarkar also opted to skip nets. The quartet, though, is certain for the first Test with Zaheer being a crucial figure in the XI, especially on a grassy pitch.
Zaheer will lead a four-pronged pace attack with support from Ashish Nehra, Ajit Agarkar and allrounder Sanjay Bangar. Harbhajan Singh will be the sole spinner.
The famous Wellington Wind was in full cry as it howled from all corners and made everyone shiver in overcast conditions.
The attention though had quickly shifted to the centre where an extremely grassy strip suggested run-making would be extremely difficult in the first Test. “There is so much grass that cows could come and there still would be enough of it left on the pitch,” said Harbhajan Singh in his usual effervescent way.
However, groundsman Trevor Jackson said it was “unusually dry” for a surface which had suffered so much of rain in recent days. “Despite its look, there is only little moisture on the pitch and it is pretty hard. It should offer good bounce and carry,” he said.
Meanwhile, New Zealand captain Stephen Fleming is optimistic that he would be back to his free-scoring ways in the Tests against India after a run of poor scores in recent times.
“I’ve not been hitting the ball well for 12 months and my game has always been based on timing, hitting the gaps in the field and scoring boundaries. I think I’ve lost that ability,” said Fleming. “I’ve decided to make some changes and immediately it has given me the opportunity to access certain areas again.”
Fleming has even employed a further grip on his bat over the last 12 months that made his signature straight drive virtually impossible to execute and he now accepts that it was a mistake.
“It may not mean that I necessarily score faster in this Test and I’m not suddenly going to be full and free but I do want to score quickly,” said the batsman who has scored 4217 runs from 71 Tests at an average of 36.35.
“My teammates know I can play shots in a way I feel I’ve been letting them down when a cover drive squirts through gully,” Fleming was quoted in the Dominion Post.
Fleming was hopeful that five hours at the crease will allow him get past three-figure marks more frequently. “I think it will give me opportunities to score them quicker. Everyone makes mistakes in an innings but instead of getting that unplayable ball in the 70s or 80s, I may be past 100.
“It hasn’t been so much tiredness that has let me down in the past but the bad ball comes along you want to smack it for four, a la Nathan Astle. He puts the loose ball away nine times out of 10. I haven’t always been doing that.”
India (likely): Sanjay Bangar, Virender Sehwag, Rahul Dravid, Sachin Tendulkar, Sourav Ganguly (captain), Vangipurappu Laxman, Parthiv Patel, Ajit Agarkar, Harbhajan Singh, Zaheer Khan, Ashish Nehra.
New Zealand (from): Stephen Fleming (captain), Nathan Astle, Shane Bond, Robbie Hart, Craig McMillan, Michael Mason, Jacob Oram, Mark Richardson, Scott Styris, Daryl Tuffey, Daniel Vettori, Lou Vincent. (Agencies)