| New Zealand captain Stephen Fleming watches his teammates practise in Mohali on Wednesday. (AFP)
|Yuvraj Singh braces up for his Test debut which has come prematurely thanks to Sourav’s decision to pull out
Chandigarh: In today’s sport, moral victories don’t exactly count for much — except, perhaps, when cricket teams from outside the sub-continent force a respectable draw in Indian conditions. Having done that in Motera, New Zealand arrived here pretty cheerful. They will be taking to the second (and deciding) Videocon Test, in neighbouring Mohali from Thursday, in an even better frame of mind.
After all, Team India captain Sourav Ganguly has pulled out and, while nobody is indispensable with a capital I, his absence is bound to be felt on a wicket where experience may eventually prove decisive. It’s not insignificant that the last India-New Zealand Test at the PCA Stadium, exactly four years ago, saw the hosts bundled out for as little as 83 in innings No.1.
It’s another matter that the Test ended in a draw.
Of course, the wicket on offer this time isn’t damp, but it has more than a touch of green and promises considerable bounce. According to curator Daljit Singh, a former East Zone stalwart, it’s a “good Test wicket.” Whatever his views, stand-in captain Rahul Dravid, at least, declined to predict how it would behave.
He added: “It’s not that you can have a perfect wicket... If that was possible, everything would be so simple...” That’s a point well made and it won’t be a terrible idea if everybody simply got on with the game instead of...
In the immediate context, though, the bigger ‘issue’ is Sourav’s (surgery-induced) pull out. Indeed, New Zealand captain Stephen Fleming was spot-on: “The Indians have to re-draw plans, not so much us... In any case, we look at a team not individuals.”
Besides the in-form Dravid, who will be captaining Team India for the first time in a Test, the other ‘beneficiary’ is local hero Yuvraj Singh. “It’s unfortunate that I’m making the XI because the captain isn’t fit, but it still is a dream come true... It’s my home ground and... It will be great if I get some runs,” he told The Telegraph, emotionally.
Yuvraj’s Test cap No.1 has come three years after his ODI debut, in the ICC KnockOut, hosted by Kenya. He celebrated on Wednesday night itself, inviting teammates over to his residence.
[While Yuvraj’s mother — to whom he owes “everything” — is sure to be present at the PCA Stadium, it’s unclear whether father Yograj (a former Test player himself) will watch his son’s debut. Yuvraj’s parents have separated.]
That forced change apart, Team India will have the Motera-look. Obviously, there will be that much more pressure to get it right in the only Test that remains. Dravid, however, didn’t quite agree with the additional pressure bit. Moreover, he emphasised that India “dominated” the first Test.
“Be it in the two tour matches (Visakhapatnam, Rajkot) or even in Motera, New Zealand’s bowlers got all ten wickets in an innings just once... Nevertheless, we’ll have to play very well over the five days,” Dravid, who is up against a shrewd captain, explained.
Fleming, who is toying with the thought of replacing off-spinner Paul Wiseman with quick Ian Butler — the latter struck his captain on the helmet on the very day the Black Caps arrived in Chandigarh, necessitating a scan — acknowledged that the draw in Motera had lifted his team’s confidence.
“Our performance there has given us the momentum,” Fleming said, and grinned when somebody spoke about his own failure (one and eight). “Sooner, rather than later, I’ll be there among the runs,” he declared. Fleming, mind you, isn’t the sort to ever be diffident.
Understandably, to begin with, there will be more attention on Zaheer Khan and the one-Test old Lakshmipathy Balaji. But, as the wicket does have cracks, Anil Kumble and Harbhajan Singh could end up with a bigger workload than assumed.
Dravid didn’t reveal his game plan if he wins the toss, only it will be surprising if the home team doesn’t opt for first strike — irrespective of the current look of the wicket. With this Test becoming the decider, it will be best to have runs on board and, then, let New Zealand do all the running.
Really, calculated aggression should fetch the most handsome dividends.
Meanwhile, the Inderjit Singh Bindra-headed PCA has imported special covers from France. The placement will be such to allow the retention of moisture. In other words, ‘life’ won’t be at a premium.
INDIA: Virender Sehwag, Akash Chopra, Rahul Dravid, Sachin Tendulkar, V.V.S.Laxman, Yuvraj Singh, Parthiv Patel, Anil Kumble, Harbhajan Singh, Zaheer Khan and Lakshmipathy Balaji.
NEW ZEALAND: Mark Richardson, Lou Vincent, Stephen Fleming, Scott Styris, Nathan Astle, Craig McMillan, Jacob Oram, Robert Hart, Daniel Vettori, Paul Wiseman/Ian Butler, Darryl Tuffey.
Umpires: David Shepherd, Rudi Koertzen.
TV umpire: I.Sivaram.
Match Referee: Ranjan Madugalle.