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New Zealand v India, 1st Test, Hamilton, 4th day
New Zealand need a seamers' shootout - Richardson
March 21, 2009
New Zealand have been outgunned by an Indian side that is superior to them in all aspects of the game
 
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"Harbhajan Singh can get something out of a wicket that doesn't offer much to the spinner and New Zealand struggle against him" © Associated Press
 

Mark Richardson: I think a lot of people believe that if New Zealand got the conditions that suited them, they would be able to push India, in that they would need green, seaming conditions or at least plenty of assistance for the bowlers. And if the conditions were flat, India would win and win comfortably because they out-rank New Zealand in all departments in flat conditions. There was some movement there on the first day, but New Zealand couldn't use them because they got put in. MS Dhoni had a bit of luck but India used the conditions very well. But India shouldn't have had such a commanding victory.

New Zealand will be very disappointed with the way they batted, starting from that first session and they were always fighting back from that. Even though they were always behind the eight-ball and under all sorts of pressure after India made that massive 520, they still had the chance to bat for a long period of time. Even if they did lose the game, to actually score 500 themselves, which they haven't done for a long time, or even lose by six or four wickets, they could have taken some confidence from the game. The fact that they were unable to get more than 300 in their second innings in good batting conditions and were bamboozled by Harbhajan Singh will disappoint New Zealand.

When you produce a bowler-friendly surface you are essentially making the game a lottery, especially when it comes to seaming wickets. What happens is it bring uneven teams together. India are ranked No.3 in the ICC rankings and New Zealand are No.8 so there is no doubt that New Zealand are a poor side in Test match cricket - they have proven that over the course of these four days in comparison to India. If you put a side on a green seaming wicket - even though Ishant Sharma, Zaheer Khan and Munaf Patel are good bowlers - it does turn the match into a bit of a lottery. Perhaps that's what New Zealand need now - a straight seam-bowling shootout - because when I think back to the two-Test series that India last played when they were here, in Hamilton and Wellington, in bowler-friendly conditions, India could have easily won that series because those conditions level the two sides up. New Zealand ironically then had Shane Bond who was probably the best bowler on display and didn't need those conditions. But given the make-up of the New Zealand and the India sides right now, they need to make it a bit of a shootout.

It has been a long time since New Zealand has had a settled top three. I think back to when I played and when I managed to hold my place for a number of Tests, I had numerous partners, so it really hasn't been settled until you go back to the [Bruce]Edgar-[John] Wright days. Maybe it's the nature of the beast where you play half your cricket in New Zealand where there is a little movement for the seamers, I don't know. I think [Martin] Guptill has shown that he has got some ability. He is a young man, it's his Test debut so you can understand him playing a poor stroke after some time at the crease because the pressure does get to you. If [Tim] McIntosh does fail then it looks awful because he has an interesting technique to say the least; its not a pretty technique but he can be hard to dislodge. He hasn't been in the best of form leading up to this match, so he is probably battling with his own issues form-wise. He did do well against West Indies so let's hope that he can play well.

There is hope that the top-order can establish a partnership but once again, it's what comes first: consistency or performance and these two have got to string together some decent performances. Daniel Flynn should take hold of this No. 3 position for a long time. He should be playing with the desperation; this is the only form of the game he has got a run-in now. He has got all the tools to be a very good No. 3. His defense is nice, he has got a nice rhythm and tempo to the way he bats; he scores in good areas and doesn't get stalled. He has sown his position at No. 3 for a while now which is good for New Zealand. They are still searching for their openers and its up to Guptill and McIntosh to be consistent.

 
 
"Right now New Zealand are lacking a spearhead and it means that they are operating with three good quality, what I would call support bowlers in Tests, or third seamers. But that does not make a bowling unit"
 

My theory on selecting the side is that you pick your four best bowlers; then you pick your six best batsmen and a wicketkeeper. Then you pick an order. So just because a guy is picked as a batsman, and one your four best bowlers happens to bat in the top five, it just means you can pick someone else, or you could have a batsman batting lower than say Daniel Vettori. I have no problem with Brendon McCullum batting at No. 5. I still think he needs to show little more process about his play in early game conditions; show a slightly better defense to bat further up the order. He needs to find some stability. While Vettori has got a very interesting technique to say the least, he has scored runs. I have no problems with him even going up to No. 5. There are 11 batsmen in the team and they all bat but the important thing is that you select your best four bowlers.

New Zealand lack penetration. They have done so since losing [Shane] Bond. If you go back to the record books, they were able to win Tests with Bond opening the bowling. What it did was to provide them with a spearhead. You then had Vettori and then you had two or three support seamers who would do a good job. Now when you think back to the glory days of New Zealand cricket in the mid 80s, they had Richard Hadlee as the spearhead; they had John Bracewell or Stephen Boock as a spin bowler. They also had a number of very capable medium-pacers who did a very good job. Right now New Zealand are lacking a spearhead and it means that they are operating with three good quality, what I would call support bowlers in Tests, or third seamers. But that does not make a bowling unit.

I expect Napier as well as Wellington to be flat wickets. So in terms of better results I wouldn't say I am hopeful because I think in batting conditions this side is currently outgunned and outclassed. If it turns markedly it brings Vettori into it but if its not spinning viciously with irregular bounce then Harbhajan becomes the best spinner on display simply because he can get something out of a wicket that doesn't offer much to the spinner and New Zealand struggle against him. I think it's an uphill battle. I do not believe that we have a balanced test team capable of beating India. There are some individuals there who can if they perform can provide an opportunity but five days is generally enough time for the better team to rise to the top and take control of the game. India are ranked No. 3 and are not there by luck, and New Zealand ranked at No.8 are not there by luck either so there is a gulf between these two sides right now.

Former New Zealand opener Mark Richardson is now a television commentator and cricket columnist


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