The bar's been raised, so have the stakes
Friday, February 27, 2009
Start time 19.00 (06.00 GMT)
The second leg of the New Zealand summer has got off to a fiery start and raised expectations all round effective Friday, when the two teams meet again. The Indian superstars, the world Twenty20 champions, will be under pressure to put up a performance worth that status. The New Zealand bowlers will be under pressure to give the home side a more 'precise' start, as Daniel Vettori put it.
In either case, there's little time to relish a win or pick up the pieces after a loss. Even before the match presentations had ended last night, the groundsmen had started taking out the portable pitch - there's a rugby game scheduled at the AMI Stadium on Friday. The day after a late game there wasn't enough time for the teams to travel to the Westpac Stadium here and check the conditions. New Zealand practised at the Basin Reserve, Wellington's Test ground, soon after landing, and India gave training a miss.
And all this for three hours' cricket. Twenty20 games can be a bit like a Christchurch-Wellington flight - more time goes in reaching the airport, checking in, and waiting for the aircraft, than the actual 30-minute flight. For India it will be more of a mental check-in before they go in to try and save the series. The first question will be, do they play an extra specialist bowler? The ease with which Irfan Pathan was taken for runs on Wednesday could outweigh his value as a batsman.
Mahendra Singh Dhoni wasn't too displeased, though, with the XI India fielded in the first game. "With an extra seamer the batting order is not as long and as deep as you would prefer in a Twenty20 game," Dhoni said. "I was quite happy with the kind of combination that we played." It will be interesting if Dhoni goes in with one of the potent pair of Munaf Patel or Praveen Kumar.
And India don't see the first loss as a big setback. "Setback? For the first game? It's not a setback," Yuvraj Singh said. "It's the first game of the series. We've got five one-dayers, three Test matches, another Twenty20, it's a long tour, so we're all geared up for it." Dhoni also said that, batting errors notwithstanding, his side learnt very quickly. "One thing for sure is we have learnt a lot from our mistakes. If we don't commit these mistakes again we have a very good chance."
Vettori, though, will want more of the same from Wednesday night: precise bowling, quick fielding and sensible batting. And Vettori himself will be the key bowler. Among bowlers who have played more than eight Twenty20 internationals, Vettori is behind only Umar Gul in terms of economy rate. And though the format is still young, those two have been the best bowlers in Twenty20 internationals. It is a testimony to his skill that he did well at the ridiculously small AMI Stadium.
"I think Harbhajan [Singh] and myself bowled pretty well," Vettori said. "Sometimes you have to flatten out a little bit because you know a mis-hit can go for a six. We go to Wellington next, where the boundaries are a bit bigger and we can bring more out of our repertoire."
Vettori will want something else too - killer instinct. And not a repeat of what happened in Australia, when they waited for mistakes from the opposition. "We've had a lot of drawn series here in the last couple of months," Andy Moles, their coach, said. "We are about winning, and it is about trying to become a winning side. Obviously we need to move forward and do that."
Apart from the expectations from the teams, the whole game will have to live up to a challenge. If Friday's game can match in closeness the pyrotechnics of the first T20, we are off to a great start to the tour.
New Zealand (likely): 1 Brendon McCullum (wk), 2 Martin Guptill, 3 Jesse Ryder, 4 Ross Taylor, 5 Jacob Oram, 6 Neil Broom, 7 Nathan McCullum, 8 Daniel Vettori (capt), 9 Ian Butler, 10 Tim Southee, 11 Iain O'Brien.
India (likely) 1 Gautam Gambhir, 2 Virender Sehwag, 3 Suresh Raina, 4 Rohit Sharma, 5 Yuvraj Singh, 6 Mahendra Singh Dhoni (capt & wk), 7 Yusuf Pathan, 8 Irfan Pathan, 9 Harbhajan Singh, 10 Zaheer Khan, 11 Ishant Sharma.
Sidharth Monga is a staff writer at Cricinfo