The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Fitness cloud over bowling spearheads

Napier: Determined to get into the groove ahead of the Test series, India’s preparations have been hit by fitness worries to two of their key players — Harbhajan Singh and Zaheer Khan — who may be rested for the warm-up match versus Central Districts beginning here Friday.

Paceman Zaheer Khan is nursing a knee injury, which he suffered during Wednesday’s Super Max international match and has been advised two days rest, while off-spinner Harbhajan is yet to recover from viral fever.

“Harbhajan is recovering, but Zaheer will need treatment for the next two days,” Indian team manager Nathu Ram Choudhary said, as the visitors arrived here this afternoon for the three-day match.

Even though the Indian thinktank wants to field its best team for the game, the only one before the start of the first Test in Wellington next Thursday, it seems unlikely that it would rush its two spearheads into the match considering that they have to play two Tests and seven one-dayers on the tour.

Harbhajan (139 wickets from 31 Tests) and Zaheer (62 from 22) will have to shoulder the bowling responsibility which lacks experience in the absence of veterans Anil Kumble and Jawagal Srinath. While Kumble opted out of the Test series due to personal reasons, selectors had decided to rest Srinath.

Skipper Sourav Ganguly, having rested through the Max match, is expected to stretch out and be at his best preparation ahead of the Tests.

Meanwhile, the Indian team had to put on hold its practice session since their kit had not reached in time. The baggage of the players is to arrive by road from Wellington.

The Indians, who have not won a Test series in New Zealand for over three decades, are determined to reverse the trend this time around, having been quite consistent in alien conditions this year.

Coach John Wright believes that seaming pitches and past history would not be a problem for his side, which boasts of a strong batting line-up. “The best feature about our tour of England this year is we batted well at Headingley and Nottingham which were green wickets,” Wright said.

Wright is confident that his formidable batting line up will live upto its reputation, but said: “The biggest challenge for us has always been to take 20 wickets. We know we bat pretty well.”

The Indian batting line-up is in good form and Sachin Tendulkar himself proved it when he scored a blistering 72 in the Max game after coming back from a month long break due to hamstring injury.

In the absence of Zaheer and Harbhajan, the Indian bowling attack for the warm-up game is likely to comprise three medium pacers — Ashish Nehra, Tinu Yohannan and Ajit Agarkar — and Murali Kartik as the lone spinner. The Indians do not have happy memories of their last match with Central Districts which they had lost by seven wickets despite a century by Sachin.

The Indian batsmen may find the going much easier this time with their opponents not really having a menacing bowling line-up.

Captain Jacob Oram is the only bowler to have played for the national side in one-dayers. But the 6-foot-six paceman, who is known for accuracy rather than penetration, is yet to play a Test for the Black Caps.

Central Districts, who won the domestic Shell Cup two seasons back, have had a torrid time since. The team had to face a humiliating 10-wicket defeat to Wellington in their only match this season .

Opening batsman Matthew Sinclair, off-spinner Glen Sulzberger and Oram are among the 20 cricketers contracted by New Zealand Cricket. But none of three seems to be in contention for the Test spot.

Sinclair, who has scored 1079 runs from 18 Tests with a healthy average of 43.80, has been out of form for the last two seasons.


CENTRAL DISTRICTS (from): Jacob Oram (captain), Bevan Griggs, Lance Hamilton, Brent Hefford, Jamie How, Peter Ingram, Michael Mason, Andrew Schwass, Martyn Singley, Matthew Sinclair, Craig Spearman and Glen Sulzberger.

INDIA (from): Sourav Ganguly (capt), Sanjay Bangar, Virender Sehwag, Rahul Dravid, Sachin Tendulkar, V.V.S. Laxman, Parthiv Patel, Ajit Agarkar, Tinu Yohannan, Murali Kartik, Ashish Nehra and Ajay Ratra. (PTI)

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