A lot at stake for New Zealand bowlers
New Zealand's bemused bowlers play a dead rubber in Auckland on Saturday that has a lot at stake for them. A win will help them restore some credibility, Daniel Vettori had said minutes after Virender Sehwag smote his side into submission in Hamilton on Wednesday.
It was the bowlers who made New Zealand change their preferred one-day international approach: chasing almost every time on winning the toss. The last 10 times they had won the toss before the Hamilton match, they opted to chase on eight occasions. They just didn't want Virender Sehwag to make first use of flat conditions. Or Sachin Tendulkar. Or MS Dhoni, Yuvraj Singh or Gautam Gambhir. Or even Yusuf Pathan. The New Zealand bowlers need to find a way, quickly.
"I think we bowled a little bit better than we have, but it wasn't good enough to compete against him [Sehwag]," Vettori said after the last match. "It was just poor execution, and I don't think there is any excuse for the performance."
New Zealand have a young bowling attack, except for Daniel Vettori and their most experienced and best pace bowler Kyle Mills. And it is the dismantling of Mills - who has gone for 202 in his 29 overs - that has caused such alarm. "I think I have probably let the side down in the last couple of games," Mills said before the Hamilton ODI. "I haven't started off as well as I normally did in the Australia and West Indies series. I do feel they are targeting me a little bit and the responsibility falls on me as the leader of the attack."
Mills did better in Hamilton, in that he provided the only test for the batsmen and went for less than six an over; but there wasn't enough support from the other end - Ewen Thompson and Iain O'Brien both went for more than 10 an over.
Clearly, the plans are not working. There has been so much talk of plans for each Indian batsman - from the captain, the coach, the bowlers themselves, and even the batsmen - that one wonders if the bowlers think instinctively at all. It has to be very difficult to plan for somebody like Sehwag, who has cut out a major weakness - that on the leg side.
New Zealand won't tell, but the plan seems to be to tie Sehwag down by giving him no room. If that is so, they need to ask themselves if they created enough chances to get him out. And Sehwag has so far scored 150 runs on the on-side as opposed to 109 on the off. His scoring area outside off - also the most likely to get him out - has not been tested enough. And this holds true for most of the Indian batsmen.
Dion Nash, the former New Zealand fast bowler, has faced an onslaught or two from Tendulkar in his day. He is a national selector now, but as a bowler he thinks one has to keep searching for the wickets. "I think you have to try and get him [Sehwag] out," Nash said when asked what's the best way to deal with such batsmen. "Like a lot of Indian batsmen he doesn't quite move his feet. To me the ball has to be moving away from the bat down the channel of off stump. The odd ball is going to whistle out of the park, but you must bowl hard and heavy balls, all hitting the top of his bat and get some swing in the air."
It could be easier said than done, though. It's a scary thought to be bowling to this line-up, full of stroke-makers, batsmen who are capable of consistently hitting good balls for fours. "The batsman can put that type of pressure on you, and you end up coming and worrying about where you might get hit, rather than thinking about how you can get him out," Nash said.
What has resulted for New Zealand is an attack that Sehwag thinks might not be able to get India out twice if the tracks for the Test matches are good. Not long ago, the same team was troubling the Australian batsmen in Australia. Now they look thin, really thin: Tim Southee has been dropped after he beat Martin Snedden to the second-worst figures in ODI cricket, O'Brien has been dropped and picked again but his confidence doesn't seem to have picked up, Ian Butler is injured, and Thompson has had a cruel taste of international cricket.
Going by the one-dayers, Sehwag's assessment doesn't seem too far off the mark. The sooner the New Zealand bowlers lift themselves the better it will be for the contest. A dead rubber is not a bad place to start.
Sidharth Monga is a staff writer at Cricinfo