Wellington: Indian captain Sourav Ganguly believes the forthcoming Test series against New Zealand, which starts here Thursday, could be his last chance to win a series away from the sub-continent.
“I want to win a series abroad. That’s the main aim of my captaincy career,” Sourav said Wednesday.
“The World Cup is coming up and obviously that is important, but this series may be my last chance to win a series abroad and I feel that if we fail, I have failed.”
India have not won a Test series away from Asia since 1986 when they beat England and they may see the New Zealand series as a golden opportunity to beat a side, which is again without what many would consider its front-line pace attack.
“They (the New Zealand side) don’t hold as many terrors as they used to,” said Sourav of the Black Caps who are missing all-rounder Chris Cairns, fast-medium bowler Ian Butler and left-arm swing bowler Shayne O’Connor.
India, however, welcome back their main strike bowler, left-armer Zaheer Khan, who injured himself in a warm-up match earlier in the tour.
Zaheer is likely to share the new ball with Ajit Agarkar while Ashish Nehra or Tinu Yohannan will be the other pace bowler. India also have a match-winner in off-spinner Harbhajan Singh who, Sourav said, can take wickets on the sort of green wicket players expect to see on Thursday.
“He nearly took 10 wickets in one of the greenest pitches at Sabina Park in Jamaica this summer and then had a five- wicket haul at The Oval. He has the experience and skill to do well in any condition.”
New Zealand captain Stephen Fleming said, “You can never be confident against Harbhajan because he is a quality player. Also traditionally, the wicket turns a little in later stages of the match.
“The best thing about the sort of pitch we are likely to face is that it will give both sides the chance to take 20 wickets, and that is good,” he added.
The Indian captain, however, discounted the theory that his batsmen could be found wanting on this pitch and reeled off figures in their defence. “It is a similar kind of condition as in Headingley. There we won the toss, batted first and topped 600 runs. This year, all of our top batsmen have scored centuries. Its a matter of getting your basics right,” he said.
All the six top-order Indian batsmen have scored heavily this year and have scored 16 centuries between them during the period — Bangar (1), Sehwag (2), Dravid (5), Tendulkar (4), Laxman (2) and Sourav (2).
Sourav’s counterpart, however, played down any significance the pitch may have. “Expectations can be tough,” said Fleming. He sounded a warning to the batsmen when he described the pitch as the “hardest” he has ever seen in New Zealand.
“There is a great grass cover and it will the hardest for any batsman to cope with,” said Fleming as he prepared to lead his side to a possible fourth win in a row against the Indians at this venue.
“I think it will be very difficult for batsmen first up. It will be very tough for the batsmen throughout no matter who is bowling.”
While Fleming will attempt to bowl out what is arguably the world’s strongest batting lineup twice with a makeshift attack, he does have last year’s find of the Australian series, Shane Bond back to lead the bowling. Bond missed the England series in March but did collect two five-wicket hauls in the series-winning tour of the West Indies.
Fleming said that his bowlers needed to be very disciplined against a formidable batting line-up. “We have to put balls in the right channel against what is a very good Indian batting line-up.
Both skippers, however, agreed that despite the seamer-friendly track, it would still require some intelligence and skill to exploit such conditions.
“You see green, seaming wickets and all of a sudden you want to dominate. There is a certain amount of nervousness in needing to perform from having to perform,” Fleming said.
“On pitches where it is seaming, good length is vital. Bowlers tend to bowl a bit short seeing the carry,” was what his opposite number had to say. Sourav said the conditions prevalent were an issue no less important than the pitch. “Wind is always a factor here, especially for the bowlers. If it is going across, it doesn’t affect the bowlers. Otherwise, somebody would be running into the wind and bowling against the breeze.”