The shower surprise
So one-day cricket has become predictable, eh? It's not the same old formulaic stuff when there's rain around. With constant rain intervals, as at the Westpac Stadium tonight, teams have to keep thinking on their feet. Equations and circumstances keep changing with every drop that hits the green.
Take a look at this scenario. Before the rain arrived the first time, India were 130 for 1 and looking at a 300-plus score. After two brief stints and three rain breaks, if the game had started, India would have had to defend 165 in 20 overs. On a pitch that Daniel Vettori said was much better than the one for the Twenty20 last week, with a wet outfield and ten wickets in hand, New Zealand would have fancied a win. So from being the favourites at one stage, India would be forgiven if they thought they escaped tonight. Such are the shenanigans of the Duckworth-Lewis system.
It is always tricky to bat after a rain interval. All of a sudden the overs are reduced, the batsmen have to think of a target that is safe, and they have to change their style. Let's not forget that they have to play themselves in before they can go for the big hits. Not to take the credit away from Vettori and Kyle Mills, but India came out a little distracted after the first rain break, and lost two wickets for 21 runs in five overs before rain struck again.
The strategising for games when rain is forecast - and the forecasts in New Zealand have been fairly good so far - begins at the toss itself. Does a team want the runs on the board? Or does it want to chase a target? It is often tempting to go for the latter, but Mahendra Singh Dhoni looked at the other side of it before he chose to bat.
"If it rains for the amount that you lose eight, 10 or 15 overs, the side which has batted first has a bit of advantage," said Dhoni said, "but in the same way for the side batting, if they are given a target in 20 overs, it becomes very easy. For New Zealand today, if it was a 20-over game, they would have required around 166-odd runs, but if it was a 28-over game they would have needed about 217-odd runs."
Also the side batting first stands to gain in terms of Powerplays from a situation when the game has been reduced. Today India got 15 overs of Powerplays before the rain interval, and with the game reduced to 34 overs, got three more overs of batting Powerplay. Had the rain not intervened, New Zealand would have got only 13 overs of fielding restrictions as opposed to India's 18. It will be one complex system that takes all this into account and then reworks the target. In a similar scenario late last year, India got 18 overs of Powerplays as opposed to England's nine, in the Bangalore ODI that had to be reduced to 22 overs a side.
Generally the shorter the match, the more it favours the fielding side. But like Dhoni said, who can predict how much it will rain? It helps, though, to have a Virender Sehwag at the top of the order to take the pressure that the duo of Duckworth and Lewis put on a batting side.
India knew it would rain in Napier and they knew it would rain in Wellington. Both times they decided to bat, so it seems like a policy decision. "It's like a gamble because you don't know how much it would rain," said Dhoni. "That's a gamble you take more often, and we are a good batting side so we back ourselves on that. If we get a good start we can get a decent score if the amount of overs are reduced by 15 or 20. And definitely, in 30 overs the opposition will get a big target to chase."
Vettori would have batted too if he had won the toss, but for a different reason. "The wicket was a lot better than it was for the Twenty20 game, so we wanted to make sure we could put a score on the board," he said. "And in a way, try and put the pressure back on India because they have done so well with batting at the start."
India's tour of New Zealand so far has been shorn of mind games and quotable quotes, but the rain breaks have added an interesting twist to both off-field planning and on-field implementation, especially when dealing with factors beyond one's control. It is not always fair, but like the batting Powerplays they add a whole new dimension.
Everybody is hoping that the next three matches will go the full distance, but you can be sure contingency plans for rain intervals will be discussed in team meetings.
Sidharth Monga is a staff writer at Cricinfo