| Rahul Dravid during practice in Cuttack on Wednesday
Cuttack: Dust-filled roads, narrow lanes and bylanes, a flurry of rickshaws and autos and the maze of legs that block your path in every step…There is little doubt that this bustling town is eagerly waiting to savour the fancies of its maiden day-night one-day International.
The Barabati Stadium could not have hoped for a more thrilling TVS Cup tie. Leave aside the permutations and combinations. Simply put, a win will brighten India’s (eight points) chances of reaching the final. For New Zealand (four), a loss will make the job even tougher.
New Zealand were dealt a blow even before the start of the match when Chris Cairns was ruled out. The allrounder, along with Paul Hitchcock, have been dropped from the XII for Thursday’s match. According to coach Ashley Ross, Cairns is still nursing a hamstring injury.
“It’s a critical game. We understand the value of a win and will look to a good performance. Whatever the conditions, we’ll try and perform to the best of our capabilities,” Rahul Dravid summed it up well.
The loss in Mumbai has meant going back to the drawing board and working on new strategies to counter the inadequacies. The stand-in skipper, however, neither seemed much bothered by the middle-order’s inability to perform under pressure nor by the flip of the coin working to the advantage of the team batting first.
“I don’t think the toss will be much of a factor. The wicket will stay firm and last the distance,” Dravid explained.
That the toss can influence the outcome of the game in day-night encounters is no surprise in this part of the world. The dew factor will assume alarming proportions here as well and the side batting second will have to counter the wet ball, the wet outfield and, of course, the wicket being rendered slower by the moisture. To eliminate this undue advantage, the Aussies have come up with a two-innings, 25-over-a-side proposal.
Middle-order blues have come to haunt the Indians since the unavailability of Sourav Ganguly and the thinktank’s decision to have a specialist wicketkeeper in Parthiv Patel. Add to it the poor form of Mohammed Kaif and the Indian team looks slightly uncomfortable in that area.
“Batting second wasn’t easy as the conditions were tougher in Mumbai. It’s an area we need to work on and get better at,” Dravid said. He stressed the need of continuing with Parthiv. “In Indian conditions a specialist wicketkeeper is as important as a specialist batsman or bowler. I don’t mind a stopgap arrangement but it should not be a practice. Parthiv has done well and he will only get better.”
Virender Sehwag’s form is not a worry, at least that has been the official word from Dravid and John Wright. But his condition is. To add to the woes with the bat, Sehwag injured his left ankle and skipped the stretching and volleyball sessions at practice this morning. He did have a knock at the nets though. If he does not make it on Thursday, chances are that Parthiv will open the innings.
Ashish Nehra’s availability is good news but bound to make the team composition more difficult. The left-arm seamer hasn’t played a match since the World Cup final following surgery to his ankle which had been his Achilles Heel for four years.“He’s worked hard on his fitness and has been bowling well in nets,” Dravid said. However, according to sources, it’s unlikely that Nehra will feature in the playing XI on Thursday.
Ajit Agarkar has performed well in the tri-series and it’s almost certain that he will retain his place. As for Zaheer Khan, his Mumbai spell is being seen as only a bad day in office. “Zaheer was the first to admit that he can bowl better. He bowled well in Gwalior but was a bit off in Mumbai. He has the experience and ability to bounce back,” Dravid made his intentions clear.
As for Sairaj Bahutule, who missed nets and arrived in Bhubaneswar only in the afternoon along with the Black Caps, the chances also look grim. Murali Kartik looks set to take Anil Kumble’s place. The ball is expected to keep low as the match progresses and the Indians will try to exploit the visitors’ weakness against the turning ball with a two-pronged spin attack.
Having lost to Australia twice and the prospect of elimination looming large New Zealand will not find it hard to get the adrenaline flowing. Jacob Oram’s 81 and the way they managed to reach 258 after being reduced to 21 for four in Pune only confirmed their batting depth, something the Indians will have to tackle to halt their progress.
“They do bat deep. We’ll have to bat well upfront to counter that. The top six batsmen have to do their job well,” Dravid remarked. There lies the secret to beating New Zealand.
India (likely): Sachin Tendulkar, Virender Sehwag/Hemang Badani, V.V.S. Laxman, Rahul Dravid, Yuvraj Singh, Mohammed Kaif, Ajit Agarkar, Parthiv Patel, Harbhajan Singh, Murali Kartik, Zaheer Khan.
New Zealand (from): Stephen Fleming, Chris Nevin, Lou Vincent, Craig McMillan, Chris Harris, Jacob Oram, Scott Styris, Daniel Vettori, Brendon McCullum, Darryl Tuffey, Kyle Mills, Ian Butler.
Umpires: Neil Mallender and A.V. Jayaprakash
TV Umpire: I. Sivaram.