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India must guard against the first two days of the series - Test series preview - Suneer Chowdhary Column
by Suneer Chowdhary
Mar 17, 2009
Before the tour had even begun, I remember making comment to a friend that the advantage India holds, going into the test series, is that they would have had an opportunity to get used to the conditions and the tracks of New Zealand. Almost 20 days into the tour, the jury would still be out on whether Team India has actually acclimatized enough to the pitches in the Kiwi-land to be able to face up to the swing and seam of their opponents. And the simple reason for this has been the fact that the wickets that had been doled out in the limited overs version have been nothing short of being as batsman-friendly as the ones that most would find back home.

That, coupled with the barrage of Indians - the test match specialists - who have suddenly landed in New Zealand has meant that there is a certain amount of unprepared-quantity amongst the tourists. This could very well be exploited on tracks which have had the reputation of ensuring that the television broadcasters earn only half the revenue from advertisements; the matches rarely last the full distance. The question that New Zealand would need to ask though is, whether they have the fire-power to disturb the Indian batting line-up even in conditions that should most perceptibly suit the bowlers. Because if it doesn't, then the phrase, double-edged sword, could very well come true with the bowling strength of the visitors.

Team India will not be without issues though, and the biggest one of them is their bowling. Rather surprisingly one must add. After boasting of an attack that has put many a batsman to sword on home tracks that haven't afforded much to the likes of Ishant Sharma and Zaheer Khan, the bowlers have struggled in a country which has traditionally been an excellent venue for quick bowlers. And if Ishant has looked slightly vulnerable with his problems with over-stepping and tendency to bowl short, then the Mr. Hyde in Munaf Patel seems to have suddenly surfaced on this trip, what with his ten odd overs in the couple of matches that he played in costing almost 100 runs!

So much so, that there has been a loud enough murmur of Laxmipathy Balaji getting an opportunity to get back into his white flannels and assume the mantle of the third bowler. One hopes for his - and Krish Srikkanth's - sake that he performs to the best of his capabilities, because his had been a selection that defied logic to most. The fifth seamer in Dhawal Kulkarni is yet to make his debut and although he will relish these conditions, it would be interesting to see whether he goes on to make his debut in the series.

The Indian batsmen had given enough indications that the 2002-03 tour was way behind them till the Auckland ODI happened. It would have made many a fan wonder whether they are only flat-track bullies or have the wherewithal to play outside their comfort zone and yet, be successful.

One can be sure of the brand of cricket that Virender Sehwag would look to play, but what worries me is Gautam Gambhir's mode of dismissal in most of the games that he has got out in. The late-half-poke-half-cut has earned him many runs in the past, but here it has proved to be his nemesis as even a slight trace of swing can ensure a nick to behind the wickets. The Kiwis would have had enough opportunity to look and talk about this and one can be rest assured that this chink would be well and truly exploited.

Rahul Dravid's quiet run of form was halted against England when he got a rather relieving century, and the man has taken off from there like a launched rocket. A couple of centuries in domestic cricket back home was followed by a ton in a side game in New Zealand as he becomes one of the most vital cog in the Indian batting line-up. Sachin Tendulkar's form may not be a concern, but his fitness definitely seems to be; especially after he was hit in the nets on the same abdominal area which had given him concerns during the ODI series, while VVS Laxman would look to continue in his quest of proving it to all and sundry that he is still 'fit' enough to represent the country. Yuvraj Singh has not yet found his bearings, something that isn't too surprising, given that the short and the swinging ball hasn't really been his strongest point.

The one big positive that India has is the length of their batting line-up; with M.S. Dhoni at the number seven position, and Zaheer Khan and Harbhajan Singh at eight and nine. The Kiwis will probably need a combination of favourable conditions and an Auckland-like bowling to roll their opponents over twice.

India goes into the series as favourites, but they must be very careful on the first couple of days of the series not to throw away any freebies for the opponents to hold on to for the rest of the two and a half test matches!
 
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