The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Opening pair under scrutiny

Wellington: No loud words were exchanged or bottles thrown in disgust or fingers pointed at each other in the Indian dressing room after the tourists lost the first Test to New Zealand at Basin Reserve by 10 wickets Saturday.

Instead the Indians were too shell-shocked by the humiliating defeat in the game to react and appeared a rag-tag bunch of travellers waylaid on the highway and completely lost for direction.

Coach John Wright, who usually gives everyone a piece of his mind, was unusually subdued. According to team sources, his only advise came on these lines: Go back to your rooms and reflect on your performance and judge whether you have done justice to your country or millions of fans who want Indian cricket to do well.

The opening pair of Sanjay Bangar and Virender Sehwag has come under close scrutiny after only one failure in the six Tests they have been together and it could suffer a temporary break in the second Test starting on Thursday in Hamilton.

Sehwag is Indian cricket’s hottest new name but his technique was found wanting against Shane Bond and company in the first Test.

Sehwag’s run-making was choked against a packed off-side field and the New Zealand bowlers tried to keep him on the backfoot with short-pitched incoming deliveries.

Sehwag, who has little footwork but relies on his hand-eye co-ordination, was caught in his crease in both the innings and now faces the first real test of his so-far brilliant international career.

V.V.S. Laxman, who averages 42.22 in Test cricket and has four centuries in his 2,660 runs from 43 Tests, is also ill-equipped against moving or bouncing deliveries.

Sehwag and Laxman could suffer long-standing damages to their career on what could be a nightmarish tour for them. Both are essential to India’s World Cup plans and they can expect further torture in the seven one-day Internationals which follow the Test series.

Wright was at pains to emphasise the importance of openers in Test matches and gave the example of the series in England to highlight his point.

“We desperately need to go through this new ball phase. It showed in the first innings and later in the second when runs came a lot more freely at a later phase of the innings.

“You got to occupy the crease. That’s important. A lot of it is about crease occupation.”

“You got to get through the first hour. It’s a matter of getting in, judging the line and letting the ball go and get the real feel of the wicket,” said Wright.

“It’s unfair in a way to pick on Sehwag and Laxman because all the Indian batsmen showed poor technique against moving deliveries and were not prepared to let deliveries go outside the off stump.”

Legendary opener Sunil Gavaskar feels a lot of it has to do with one-day cricket where a batsman tries to make the most of every delivery and would have a go even at those pitched outside the off-stump, more so when there are not enough slips to send them packing.

“One-day cricket has a lot to do with it where you are prone to chase deliveries even pitched outside the off-stump,” said Gavaskar who is here as a commentator.

India have had an overcrowded schedule in the last 18 months playing 25 Tests and no less than 53 one-day Internationals, travelling to four different countries besides playing three series at home.

As of now, no decision has yet been taken on the openers but some tough measures would be required if India are to stop New Zealand from winning the second Test and the series 2-0.

The humiliating defeat at Basin Reserve also made a non-sense of India’s pre-Test assertion that its batsmen had a proven Test record all over the world and are well-equipped to come to terms with any condition and surface.

They seemed terrified and frozen on a seaming, bouncy pitch at Basin Reserve and more of it could be served in the second Test in Hamilton on Thursday.

Wright said it would serve the team no good if it suffered from a phobia about the conditions. “You have to be positive about the conditions, you have to take them as they are. You have to be positive in mind, no matter how the wicket is going to behave.”

The defeat seems to have pleased no one except the New Zealand team as it extended its reputation on home pitches. Apparently, New Zealand Cricket (NZC) has suffered a loss of NZ $45,000 because the match could not go into Sunday, the fourth day, when the biggest crowd was expected.

It is no different for the TV network telecasting the match live to Indian viewers back home as they not only lost revenue for the last two days but also had to suffer loss on the third day as the match finished before tea break. The ad revenue in post-tea session is more compared to the first two sessions because of the time difference in the two countries.

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