India v New Zealand, 1st Test, Ahmedabad November 3, 2010

Low-key build-up as mismatch beckons

ESPNcricinfo staff

Match Facts

Thursday, November 4
Start time 09.30 (04.00 GMT)

The Big Picture

The only buzz in Ahmedabad is about the Diwali, the festival of light and sound. The odd cracker goes off at night, the shopping malls are packed, as are the 'soda shops' with thirsty people waiting for their spouses to finish shopping. In this atmosphere of joy, temptation, greed, commerce and bonhomie, cricket seems a trivial affair but here we are with an India v New Zealand contest.

The knee-jerk prediction for this series would have evoked memories of former BCCI secretary Jaywant Lele's 0-3 prediction ahead of an Indian tour Down Under, obviously in reverse. Yet Indians have rarely bossed their opposition like that, even at home. The last time was in 1992-93, when a poor English side was tormented by Anil Kumble & Co. The image of that series was of Richard Blakey being harassed and hustled by Kumble.

India have rarely been that dominant since. The designer dustbowl pitches have been replaced by largely batting-friendly surfaces, the visiting batsmen have grown more adept at playing spin and the playing field has become relatively level. Even Zimbabwe were no pushovers when Andy Flower was in full bloom. So the general feeling that New Zealand will surrender tamely might be an erroneous assumption - and dangerous for India.

It's difficult to see New Zealand take 20 Indian wickets; it's difficult to see them bat well in the second innings on turning tracks, and it's difficult to see them consistently maintain pressure with bat or ball over sessions but it's not difficult to see them bat well in the first innings in good batting conditions.

Mark Richardson, that masterfully dour former New Zealand opener, recently wrote that the line-up per se - Watling, McCullum, Guptill, Taylor, Ryder, Williamson, Vettori - gives him confidence but not its achievements; barring Vettori and the untested Williamson, the players have failed to deliver on their potential. They could do worse than acquiring some of Richardson's patience.

India are in a unique stage in their cricketing history in that their fans are looking ahead to the overseas series against South Africa rather than what's playing now. It almost feels like the Australians and English, who obsess about the Ashes and treat anything in between as practice. Nevertheless, India have some issues to deal with. A couple of things stand out: Gautam Gambhir and Rahul Dravid getting some big runs, and Ishant Sharma and Sreesanth showing some consistency.

Form guide

(most recent first)
India :WWWDL
New Zealand: LLWDL

Watch out for...

Jesse Ryder was New Zealand's best batsman when they last played India. For a man who is waging an inner battle to keep his head in control off the field, he showed a remarkably cool head in the middle. He batted almost as if in a trance and what especially stood out was how little he deviated from his game plan. The footwork was minimal but very precise, the shot-selections were awesome and his patience supreme. Can he perform an encore?

Pragyan Ojha is not a headliner but he might be the one who troubles New Zealand most. Harbhajan Singh has been afflicted with injuries since his fine performance against South Africa in Calcutta in February this year and hasn't turned in match-winning spells since. Considering how New Zealand struggled against the Bangladeshi left-arm spinners - Ojha is of course no equal to the vastly accomplished Shakib Al Hasan - Ojha might strangle them with his accurate spin.

Pitch and conditions

No one can predict this Motera track. The last two Tests have been chalk and cheese: South Africa crushed India for 76 in April 2008 while Sri Lanka amassed 760 in the next Test in 2009. Ten Indian wickets fell in 20 overs in the first Test while 21 fell over five days in the next. And there could be more strange behaviour in store for us this time around: an unprecedented cloudburst early in August flooded the stadium and it took three days to drain out the water. This will be the first big game after that. The curator reckoned that there would be help for seamers on the first day.

Teams

New Zealand (probable): 1 Tim McIntosh, 2 Brendon McCullum, 3 BJ Watling, 4 Ross Taylor,5 Jesse Ryder, 6 Kane Williamson, 7 Daniel Vettori (capt), 8 Gareth Hopkins (wk), 9 Tim Southee, 10 Hamish/Bennett/Andy McKay, 11 Chris Martin

India (probable): 1 Virender Sehwag, 2 Gautam Gambhir, 3 Rahul Dravid, 4 Sachin Tendulkar, 5 VVS Laxman, 6 Suresh Raina, 7 MS Dhoni (capt & wk), 8 Harbhajan Singh, 9 Ishant Sharma, 10 Zaheer Khan, 11 Pragyan Ojha

Stats and trivia

  • Vettori needs 38 runs to become the third allrounder after Kapil Dev and Ian Botham to have 4000 runs and 300 wickets

  • If Dravid takes a catch of Harbhajan's bowling, it would be the 50th time the pair have been involved in a dismissal. They would become the fourth pair in Tests to do so: Muralitharan-Jayawardene (77), Kumble-Dravid (55) and Warne-Taylor (51). Dravid needs two more catches to become the first player to hold 200 catches in Tests.

  • Sachin Tendulkar needs one more hundred to make it 50. If he hits two fifties in this series it will be his 13th against New Zealand and with it, he will join Javed Miandad who has scored the most 50s against New Zealand.

  • Vettori is set to become the second player after Stephen Fleming to play 100 Tests for New Zealand.

Quotes

"More than fast bowling support to Zaheer, I am concerned about injuries. Not one series we have been able to play our full strength team."
After a string of fitness concerns to the Indian team over the past few months, MS Dhoni wants his first-choice XI to come through unscathed in Ahmedabad

"I think we are trying to improve our Test match ranking, trying to get better as a team and if you start off with a mindset of draws being acceptable, then it gets difficult. I want to go out there wanting to win and we will take it from there."
Daniel Vettori doesn't want his team to be fazed by the prospect of taking on the top-ranked side