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October 29, 2003
Daryl Tuffey: could have finished on top had New Zealand bowled first
Batting first after winning the toss is usually a sensible approach in India, but a look at the past record at Faridabad would have suggested that bowling first might have been the best way to win here: four of the previous six matches have been won by the team chasing a target.
A more compelling reason, though, was the look of the pitch and the atmospheric conditions when play started. In the northern part of the country, there is usually a nip in the air at this time of the year, and a 9am start ensures that bowlers get plenty of assistance for at least an hour. Coupled with that was a pitch which had a fair sprinkling of grass - one wonders if the grass would have remained had India been one of the teams playing - and there was every reason to unleash Daryl Tuffey in conditions which were more Hamilton than Faridabad. Stephen Fleming's baffling decision at the toss meant that by the time Tuffey did come on to bowl, the sun was blazing down, the pitch had lost most of its juice, and, most importantly, New Zealand had almost nothing on the board to defend.
It was also a lucky reprieve for the Australian batsmen, who were coming off a disappointing performance at Gwalior. Instead of being subjected to some testing seam and swing bowling, they only had to ease off the runs which not only gave them their first win of the tournament, but also handed them an easy bonus point.
Nathan Bracken showed exactly how much assistance there was for the fast bowlers. At Gwalior, his deliveries all angled away from the right-hander; here, he swung it in an alarming amount, and he did it on a regular basis, getting all three wickets off that type of delivery. That McGrath, Gillespie and Lee were missing mattered little, and neither did Venkat's decision which reprieved Craig McMillan early in his innings.
New Zealand's next two matches against Australia are both day encounters, at Pune and Guwahati. Hopefully, conditions won't be as lopsided there.
S Rajesh is assistant editor of Wisden Cricinfo.