| Craig McMillan and Stephen Fleming watch practice in Chennai on Wednesday. (AFP)
Chennai: The Test series is over and cricket is set to change colour. Designer outfits, white balls and black sightscreens will be back on centrestage as the TVS Cup tri-series starts its whistlestop journey across India from the M.A. Chidambaram Stadium here on Thursday, with the India-New Zealand day-night duel.
There has been a welcome change in another, and vital, front as well. The area near the Marina beach witnessed bright sunshine after nearly 72 hours, brightening chances of a 100-over affair, which seemed unlikely barely a day earlier. The cover didn’t allow a drop of water on the wicket and though the outfield was soft in pockets on Wednesday afternoon, it’s certain to improve over the next 24 hours provided it doesn’t pour again. Late in the evening, it seemed as if it might rain though.
And in sync with the changing nature of things, India have decided to effect a major change in their scheme of things. “I won’t keep wickets since Parthiv Patel is in the squad,” disclosed Rahul Dravid at the pre-match media session.
The stand-in skipper’s comment ensures India will have to abandon the idea of fielding five specialist bowlers — something Sourav Ganguly is so keen on. This decision virtually declares the Indian XI for the first of their six matches in the league stage.
Lakshmipathy Balaji, who replaced Avishkar Salvi in the squad, Murali Kartik and Hemang Badani will be on the sidelines as the team goes in with six batsmen, ’keeper Parthiv and the two-two pace-spin attack of Zaheer Khan, Ajit Agarkar, Harbhajan Singh and Anil Kumble.
Salvi pulled a hamstring during afternoon training and according to coach John Wright will be out for at least two matches.
As for New Zealand, there is doubt over Jacob Oram and Ian Butler, both of whom are carrying minor muscle strains. “Let’s see how they come through during nets. We will take a decision after that,” said skipper Stephen Fleming. While Oram did sweat it out in the mid-afternoon training session, Butler looked less than the promising tearaway he had in the Mohali Test.
That may not be a serious concern for Fleming yet. The pitch appears to be as flat and barren as most one-day wickets in India have in the recent past and one Chris Cairns is apparently eager to win back his status of being a principal weapon with the ball that he once was.
“He is a proud cricketer. He knows youngsters are emerging to challenge him for a slot in the team and Chris wants to make most of this India trip,” said Fleming. Cairns, who has a good record against India, couldn’t bowl and has played as a specialist batsman in recent times.
The feature of New Zealand’s unexpected and commendable show so far on tour has been teamwork and homework — areas where the hosts are yet to score heavily. On talent and merit, one on one, most Indians will comfortably outweigh many members of the visiting party. But that holds little relevance in the philosophy of cricket Fleming’s team follows.
India should know by now that the margin for error will be minimum against this New Zealand team and even a minor flaw may go severely punished unless some extraordinary individual performance makes up for it.
Added to this, the disappointment of failing to avenge the dressing down received in New Zealand in Tests last year will rankle and that might leave Fleming with a psychological edge .
It surely will, but India will have to quickly discard the patchy performance they produced in the last Test to make sure the ball rolls the way they want. With the fear of rain not fully allayed yet, the toss may become crucial. Since the team batting second is likely to suffer in case of a revised target, the captain calling correctly will surely bat first.
India (likely): Sachin Tendulkar, Virender Sehwag, V.V.S. Laxman, Rahul Dravid, Yuvraj Singh, Mohammed Kaif, Ajit Agarkar, Parthiv Patel, Harbhajan Singh, Anil Kumble, Zaheer Khan.
New Zealand (from): Stephen Fleming, Lou Vincent, Craig McMillan, Chris Cairns, Chris Harris, Scott Styris, Brendon McCullum, Chris Nevin, Daniel Vettori, Kyle Mills, Darrly Tuffey, Ian Butler, Jacob Oram, Paul Hitchcock.
Umpires: David Shepherd, A.V. Jayaprakash. Match Referee: Ranjan Madugalle.
Hours of play: 2.30 pm to 6 pm. 6.45 pm to 10.15 pm.