| Shane Bond during practice in Centurion Thursday. (AP/PTI)
Johannesburg: For India, the focus is on extending a winning run. For New Zealand, it’s starting one. Actually, Friday’s Super Six game against India has near-knockout status for the Black Caps.
The Indians have little to gain, except going for seven wins on-the-trot (the sequence beginning in Harare last month) and, possibly, having the satisfaction of knocking New Zealand out of World Cup 2003. For that to become reality, though, Sourav Ganguly will also have to bank on Sri Lanka beating Zimbabwe, in East London, Saturday.
Given the present equation, the Black Caps are under no illusion. Yet, they have themselves to blame. The tournament, after all, could have had a very different look had New Zealand travelled to Nairobi and not gifted four points to Kenya.
The points allowed Kenya to grow in strength and, now, Steve Tikolo’s men are in the semi-finals. The supreme irony, of course, is that the Black Caps are struggling to get there.
That they thrashed India 5-2, not too long ago, isn’t of any relevance. The Centurion wicket (described as a “belter” by Sourav) is vastly different from what was offered in Auckland or Hamilton. That India won big (versus Pakistan) in the last outing should also be a plus.
Stephen Fleming, however, is going back not one but two matches — to the huge defeat suffered by India at the hands of Australia. “We’ve been viewing the tapes, which have confirmed our belief,” the captain informed, indicating that getting Shane Bond to do a Brett Lee is high on his agenda.
Bond himself is cool about the job that awaits him. “I had a good run when we last played India and, personally, I’m seeing the game as an extension (of the December-January series)... But, yes, quickly getting the first three is important,” the debonair Bond, a one-time member of the Christchurch police force, told The Telegraph.
Predictably, there’s much excitement over the expected Bond-Sachin Tendulkar face-off, but it’s unlikely that India’s final Super Six match will be limited to a battle between two quality performers only.
It’s significant that the Indians have begun to perfect the basics and, as long as unforced errors are at a minimum, extending the winning run shouldn’t be a tall order. As reported in these columns, the XI remains unchanged. It appears the batting order also won’t see an alteration.
Despite having qualified for the semi-finals, it still is a World Cup game. Therefore, it must be treated as such. In any case, easing off and allowing New Zealand to dictate terms can hardly be an ideal preparation for the March 20 (day-night) round-of-four clash in Durban.
Incidentally, Chris Cairns — in the headlines thus far for a nightclub brawl only — is likely to both bat and bowl. And, late Thursday, one learnt the Black Caps have made two changes from the side which lost to Australia Tuesday.
Craig McMillan, potentially very dangerous, is back in place of Lou Vincent, while Daryl Tuffey (who was successful in the last India series) has taken Andre Adams’ berth. As with everything that Fleming does, the inclusions/exclusions must have been planned with care.
Soon, we will know to what extent the tinkering was successful.
India: Sourav Ganguly (capt.), Virender Sehwag, Sachin Tendulkar, Rahul Dravid, Mohammed Kaif, Yuvraj Singh, Dinesh Mongia, Anil Kumble, Harbhajan Singh, Jawagal Srinath, Ashish Nehra, Zaheer Khan.
New Zealand: Stephen Fleming (capt.), Nathan Astle, Scott Styris, Chris Cairns, Chris Harris, Craig McMillan, Brendon McCullum, Jacob Oram, Daniel Vettori, Shane Bond, Daryl Tuffey.
Umpires: Peter Willey (England), Daryl Harper (Australia).
Third Umpire: Darrel Hair (Australia).
Match Referee: Ranjan Madugalle..
Match starts: 1.30 pm (IST).