India look to avert embarrassing stalemate
Match factsSaturday, November 20
Start time 9.30 (0400 GMT)
Big PictureIn the late 90s and early 2000s, Australia was the country where teams went to get clean-swept. Pakistan, India and West Indies had managed the distinction in sequence, and the same was expected of New Zealand in 2001-02. Not least because of the form they carried across the ditch, having fought to draw a home Test series against Pakistan and having lost home ODI series to Zimbabwe and Pakistan, along with unsuccessful forays into tri-series in the subcontinent. Yet the top team in the world had to bowl wide outside off to draw the first Test, and then save the final through batting contributions from Shane Warne and Adam Gilchrist. Series result: 0-0.
Not too different, in a way, from New Zealand getting Bangla-washed on their way to India, a team looking to extend its reign at the top, its broadcasters selling the series as "Mission Domination". Score line going into the final match: 0-0, with India being made to save one of those Tests.
Still there are differences, outside the obvious reiteration that New Zealand should never be taken lightly. New Zealand then had a much stronger side through the presence of Chris Cairns, Stephen Fleming, Craig McMillan, Nathan Astle and Dion Nash, along with two promising youngsters in Daniel Vettori and Shane Bond. Also, the conditions in Australia aren't as alien as the ones in India are. Which is what makes the performance in India so far every bit as sweet for New Zealand, if not sweeter.
The way the top team played then and the way the top team is playing now cannot be more different. Australia made bold declarations, setting targets such as 284 runs in 56 overs. India are so used to playing on flat tracks that they send a deep point out the moment the leading wicket-taker still playing the game is hit for one boundary. With the exception of Virender Sehwag, India have shown no inclination to set the pace.
It will be interesting to see if India will become more aggressive in the decider, for attacking consistently will go against what has worked for them in recent times: damage-control to stay in the game until the wickets arrive. Failing to win a home series against the No. 8 team in the world, though, might require much more damage-control than deep point and deep midwicket can provide.
Form guide(Most recent first)
New Zealand DDLLW
Watch out for…Gautam Gambhir scratched through in Hyderabad for his first half-century in 10 months. Those 10 months have featured an evil concoction of injury and poor form, the latter possibly a result of the former. There were signs, though, that he might be getting back to his free-flowing self. Still, being a man who is often too hard on himself, Gambhir can do with a century before he goes to South Africa.
Brendon McCullum invited pressure when he gave up the wicketkeeping gloves to concentrate on his batting. Two Tests into the exercise McCullum already seems to have made a change, albeit in a country that doesn't test openers as much as some of the others do. Twice in three innings, his impetus at the top has put India on the defensive. India will be wary of his batting, and also keep an eye out for that flying object in the covers.
Pitch and conditionsThe tracks in this series so far have received a lot of negative attention from the home team, who will be hoping for a better pitch in Nagpur. Both the captains have found this pitch to be drier than the ones in Ahmedabad and Hyderabad, but neither of them expects a raging turner designed to give the home team the best possible chance of a win.
More than the pitch now, weather has become the centre of attention, with unseasonal rains washing out both of India's practice sessions ahead of the match. The main pitch and the bowlers' run-ups have stayed covered, but puddles have formed in the outfield. A delayed start won't come as a surprise.
Team newsZaheer Khan, India's best bowler at the moment, has been ruled out with a groin strain, and Ishant Sharma is likely to take his place in the XI. Despite two draws, India are not going to make any other dramatic changes to their combination.
India 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 Pragyan Ojha, 11 Sreesanth
New Zealand are likely to bring in the left-arm pace of Andy McKay ahead of Brent Arnel's steady seamers.
New Zealand 1 Tim McIntosh, 2 Brendon McCullum, 3 Martin Guptill, 4 Ross Taylor, 5 Jesse Ryder, 6 Kane Williamson, 7 Daniel Vettori (capt), 8 Gareth Hopkins (wk), 9 Tim Southee, 10 Andy McKay, 11 Chris Martin
Stats and trivia
- India are sure to lose rating points irrespective of the result of this match. Even if they win the match, they will lose one point; a loss and a draw will cost them six and four points respectively.
- Six out of India's top seven batsmen, Virender Sehwag being the exception, have scored at less than 50 runs per 100 balls.
- New Zealand last won an away Test, not counting Zimbabwe and Bangladesh, in 2002 in the West Indies, which was also the last time they won an away series.
Quotes"If you look at the schedule players like myself and Suresh Raina have been playing non-stop cricket since the Sri Lanka tour ... So there has not been enough time to switch on and switch off."
MS Dhoni plays the fatigue card
"We are not satisfied because once we are satisfied, it will be the start of our downfall."
Daniel Vettori knows his side have done well so far, but does not want to relax until the series is over
Sidharth Monga is an assistant editor at Cricinfo