India win battle of part-timers too
During the third ODI in Christchurch, when New Zealand still had a chance of winning the series, Mahendra Singh Dhoni was forced into a move he had been reluctant to make, especially given the short boundaries. When Munaf Patel began the 45th over, New Zealand needed 71 with two wickets in hand to chase down an improbable 392. The first ball went for a six, the second and fourth were beamers, after which Munaf had to be taken off, forcing Dhoni to turn to Yusuf Pathan for the first time that night.
The next four deliveries produced a single, a dot ball, another dot ball, and a wicket. The game had turned. Amid the excitement created by Virender Sehwag, Sachin Tendulkar, and the rest of India's batting line-up, a part-timer had provided the small, final turning point of the match. New Zealand would not have spent sleepless nights over that dismissal - Kyle Mills had to go for everything at that point - but they will be concerned that India's fifth-bowler combine of Yuvraj Singh and Yusuf has outbowled their combination of Jacob Oram, Grant Elliot and Jesse Ryder. And irritatingly for New Zealand, it has been an important factor in this series.
Between them, Yuvraj and Yusuf have bowled 34.4 overs for 190 runs and seven wickets. In 39.1 overs, Oram, Ryder and Elliot have gone for 311 runs and two wickets. There's only one winner when you compare economy-rates of 5.23 and 7.94. And India's part-time spin combination has taken wickets - as many as the whole New Zealand pace attack has.
Moments after New Zealand lost the fourth ODI in Hamilton, Daniel Vettori lamented that New Zealand had played out 57 dot balls against the spinners. If they have to beat a strong India, they will need to cover even these finest of details. It could be down to a difference in batting styles. India have not slowed down in the middle overs in this series and have targeted the fifth bowler after giving Vettori due respect.
The pitches in New Zealand are on the slower side, and both the Indian part-time spinners have used that to their advantage. Yusuf, who hasn't been bowled much but boasts proud figures of 9.4-0-37-3 in the series, has shown a clever change of pace. Sometimes he waits an extra second before delivering, slowing down the pace, but he can also spear it in.
Of late, Yuvraj has been quite difficult to play for the right-handers. Kevin Pietersen struggled against him both in the one-dayers and the Tests, playing for the spin and getting beaten by ones that go straight on. And Yuvraj compounds the threat by getting the odd delivery to turn square. Dhoni has shown more confidence in Yuvraj the bowler than previous captains have, and he has reaped the benefits. In his last 16 matches, Yuvraj has bowled his quota of 10 overs five times, and has bowled nine-overs in a 47-over match. In this series he may have gone for just over six an over, but he has taken more wickets than Kyle Mills.
The New Zealand part-timers are all medium-pacers, who haven't been effective on friendly batting surfaces. Oram has just come back from injury, is not 100% with the ball, and has been targeted by the Indian batsmen. Ryder got his figures rearranged when India opted for a batting Powerplay in the 23rd over in Christchurch, catching New Zealand by surprise.
Another big difference between how the sides have used their part-timers comes from where their specialist spinner is placed. India can afford to start with the part-timers as soon as the bowling Powerplay ends, knowing that Harbhajan Singh can bowl at any time. Vettori is usually forced to bring himself early on after a damaging onslaught from the Indian openers. Oram, Ryder and Elliot, incidentally, went through their worst game when Vettori was not present.
There is a marked difference between the quality of the part-time bowlers the teams possess. And India haven't used either Sehwag or Sachin Tendulkar yet. Given the kind of batting starts India have been getting, tackling part-timers will not be very high on priority lists at the moment. But if New Zealand can get early wickets at the Eden Park, keep an eye on both teams' middle overs.
Sidharth Monga is a staff writer at Cricinfo