March 17, 2009

Leather hunt ahoy

New Zealand's bowling lacks penetration, and preparing seaming wickets won't be the ticket either

To say the forthcoming Test series between India and New Zealand will be challenging for the home side would be a huge understatement. If everything plays out as suspected, it could be 15 long days of leather-chasing for the New Zealand players.

The word on the street is to expect flat batsman-friendly wickets - a knee-jerk reaction to the green ones the last time the Indians arrived. Ironically, back then the New Zealand bowlers possibly didn't need all the assistance they got from the surfaces, because they had Shane Bond, who was the standout bowler in the series and provided New Zealand with wicket-taking potential on all surfaces. This time round, the home team's bowling attack could very much do with all the assistance it can get from the pitches.

New Zealand's senior seam bowler this time will be Kyle Mills. Sure, he is ranked at No. 3 in the ICC ODI rankings, but in Tests he sits at a lowly 41. The highest-ranked seam bowlers for New Zealand in Test cricket right now are Chris Martin at 19 and James Franklin at 24. Martin has only just got back into any sort of favour with the selectors and Franklin has won selection as a batsman. The most effective seam bower in Test cricket for New Zealand of late has been Iain O'Brien, and his ranking, 27, leads you to conclude that penetration is not the strong point of the New Zealand Test team right now.

Daniel Vettori is their highest-ranked player, at 11, and if the wickets are as predicted then he will be crucial, but really, who do you give the edge to - Vettori versus the Indian batsmen or Harbhajan Singh and Amit Mishra versus the New Zealand batsmen? Vettori is a wonderful bowler but performances over time against the better Test nations have shown him to be consistent but not destructive.

Without doubt the major hurdle will be New Zealand's ability to take 20 wickets. In fact, if the tracks are flat then bowling India out once could be a major issue too.

So what to do? Well, the obvious is to turn the sprinklers on and leave a good coating of grass on the wickets. However, that may not suit New Zealand either. The average New Zealand batsman is not freaked out by a little sideways movement - he is used to it. But a bit of sideways coming from the likes of the evergreen Zaheer Khan and the ever-improving Ishant Sharma may be just as freaky to the local batsmen as the movement coming from Mills and Co is to the tourists. If it comes down to a fast-bowling shootout in hostile conditions then it may not be a case of advantage New Zealand but simply a lottery that no one can really win.

The average New Zealand batsman is not freaked out by a little sideways movement - he is used to it. But a bit of sideways coming from the likes of Zaheer Khan and Ishant Sharma may be just as freaky to the local batsmen as the movement coming from Mills and Co is to the tourists

New Zealand cricket fans have enjoyed the display of destructive hitting that has come from Indian blades during the ODIs, and possibly would not feel cheated should the likes of Virender Sehwag, Rahul Dravid, Sachin Tendulkar and VVS Laxman fill their boots in the Test matches. After all it is most likely the last we will see of the latter three in New Zealand. For that very reason these players may feel they owe New Zealand a few runs too, and they could be highly motivated to score heavily in a country where they have not done themselves justice in the past.

I can't actually see much to get excited about as a New Zealander eager for a victory for the home side. If there is anything I could hold on to as hope, it may just be what happened in Auckland in ODI five. The result of that match - India rolled for 149 - showed that the New Zealand seamers don't actually need an unfair amount of assistance from the wicket to come back into the game. All they need is enough movement to ensure the Indian players cannot simply stand and deliver; that they cannot just hit through the line, paying scant regard for length. The conditions asked them to show more process and more patience. Maybe it was the dead-rubber scenario, and maybe with Test results on the line the Indians will pay the conditions more respect, but it showed that there was wicket-taking potential in the New Zealanders when they get a skerrick of help and a vulnerable Indian tail, should they get to it.

Of the venues in use, Hamilton may offer some movement on day one but the others, Wellington and Napier, may only provide it for a session at most. Vettori had better hope for his usual luck at the toss, but inserting the Indian batsmen in conditions that don't scream bowler's paradise will be one heck of a big call. Even if it does look like there is some help for his seamers, he needs to think carefully about the scenario that says if you bowl first you bat last, and if you don't make use of the early movement then good luck playing out for a draw on the last day against Harbhajan and Mishra.

Yep, it's a heck of a big challenge for New Zealand this one, with very few avenues to find a strategic advantage, but would you expect anything different in a contest where No. 3 plays No. 8?

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

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Venkatesh on March 19, 2009, 12:32 GMT

    Mark Richardson seems to have some sort of hangup - why does he feel that the powers that be in New Zealand are so subservient to the "commands" of the BCCI? Time and again, his columns seem to say the same thing - there will be flat wickets because Indians want it that way. He would do well to remember some basic things. 1. Zaheer, Ishant, Munaf and Balaji are far more likely to run through the Kiwis than having the Kiwis cause trouble to the Indian lineup 2. In the last series (which Mark keeps harking back to), India won 2 matches and on both occassions, New Zealand batted first. Every match went in favour of the team bowling first. New Zealand did not do much better than India did in facing up to the movement that the seamers got. And that in home conditions.

  • Calathur on March 19, 2009, 7:28 GMT

    Hey Mark

    Looks like seam movement and swing works both ways huh? It's not just Indian batsmen who have problems with swing and it's not just NZ bowlers who can swing eh?

    Remember what I said about swing and the Indian team's win in England?

    Iain seems to be more balanced in his views and all said and done, Kiwi bowlers have done a very good job in keeping the rate of scoring down. Getting Sehwag early always slows down the scoring

  • Shahzad on March 18, 2009, 11:09 GMT

    The Kiwis would have performed much better if they haven't banned their players who participated in ICL. At present all the Cricket Boards of the world are behaving like toys in the hand of Indian Cricket Board.

  • Cricz on March 18, 2009, 1:43 GMT

    Already looking for excuses for your teams loss, like you did for the one dayers? . If pitches are batsman friendly they are not batsman fiendly for just one team they are for both. You just need to learn to give credit when it's due and admit that Indian team is far better prepared this time around than last time.

  • Amish on March 17, 2009, 23:10 GMT

    I believe India will win da series easily unless intervened by weather. The kind of pitches prepared will have no effect on da outcome. Starting off with da batting if wickets are flat, dey'll all blossom and even bhajji will fancy his chances of a test hundred, but if seaming wickets are prepared then we all know Dravid plays at his best den, Tendulkar in da series against australia showed he can also grind it out and Sehwag single-handedly won a test match in Sri Lanka last yr not even mentioning da otha 4.

    To the bowling now n most people seem to have forgotton that in India's last two series, despite being played at home, Zaheer and Ishant were man of the series, speaking volumes abt indian fast bowlers capabilities. Bhajji's a world class spinner n can win matches on any kind of pitches. NZ in contrast have only Vettori who can turn the game and in batting department dey have none.

    Having said dat cricket's a very unpredictable game n we shud wait n c as the action unfolds.

  • Ben on March 17, 2009, 21:39 GMT

    The flat wickets were prepared for the Indians. They had an unenjoyable time last time round and complained about the wickets being too green. The NZers know what side their bread is buttered on and if the Indians have a good and enjoyable time here they will look more kindly on NZ in the future. India is where all the money comes from for cricket, so keep the bosses happy and hope to reap some rewards in the future.

    Personally, a test wicket should have a bit of life in it on the first two sessions for the seamers, start flatteneing out over the next few days for the batsmen, then start taking turn on the final two days. That means there is something in it for everyone.

    But has anyone ever seen a green top in India??? You expect barren pitches over there, and as such you should expect green tops in NZ and England (and Aussie to a certain extent). That is what gives cricket variation.

  • Samir on March 17, 2009, 20:25 GMT

    Include Shane Bond and prepare green wickets! India has NO CHANCE to win with just one change in the team!

  • Ravi on March 17, 2009, 18:44 GMT

    Mark Richardson is confused to put it mildly. Only recently, before the start of the 20/20 series, he said NZ board will dish out flat wickets to please the bosses at BCCI. Now he says that preparing pitches that assist seam and fast bowling won't help NZ either.

    He says that NZ bowlers did not need any help in 2002. I beg to differ. The fact that they went to the extent of spoiling the series with 2-day test matches lends credence to the belief that they needed help. Many people say that if you prepare such bouncy pitches, it is a lottery, meaning any team can win. Again not accurate! If only one team knows what kind of pitches to expect and has a couple of months to prepare, the result is a foregone conclusion. No team has practice playing in those alien conditions. So, if a team has a couple of months of practice, then the have the momentum they gain at the beginning of the series to carry them through. This time around I guess India is prepared for the lawns and nothingwill helpNZ

  • PRASH on March 17, 2009, 17:57 GMT

    Mark your articles change as many times as you change clothes it would seem

  • Shankar on March 17, 2009, 17:38 GMT

    I am so tired of Mark Richardson and his insinuations that India can only make runs if the wickets are flat. Truth be told the last series in NZ was a complete lottery - where else have you heard of a team being bowled out for 99 and getting a first innings lead? And he talks about how NZ didnt need wickets to help them last time around - that is easy to say six years after the event! It is condescending for Richardson to insinuate that the wickets have to be helpful so that the Indians can 'fill their boots'. Quite conveniently he uses a single example of the 5th ODI to provide evidence that India cant play in bowling conditions. What rubbish. The only reason NZ didnt green up the wickets this time was because most of their batsmen need all the help they can get to make 50s!

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