Teams switch to five-day gear
Match factsWednesday, March 18, 2009
Start time 11.00 local (22.00 GMT)
The Big Picture
Galle, Perth, Trent Bridge, Johannesburg, Kingston, Rawalpindi, Multan, Adelaide, Headingley, Port-of-Spain, and Kandy. The venues of India's memorable overseas victories in the 21st century include all but one of the major Test nations. New Zealand remains the only country in which India have not won a Test since they became competitive away from the subcontinent. India's solitary Test-series success in New Zealand was four decades ago, their last Test triumph here was in 1976, and their last tour in 2002-03 ended in a disastrous 2-0 rout. Mahendra Singh Dhoni's men created history over the last two weeks by winning their first ever one-day series in New Zealand, and another such opportunity lies ahead of them.
The five one-dayers were largely about batsmen trying to hit the ball over the tiny boundaries at New Zealand's small grounds for 50 overs, while the bowlers strove to limit the damage. The Tests, however, require a more durable approach and India's batting has been bolstered by the inclusion of Rahul Dravid and VVS Laxman. Both of them have had match practice by playing State Championship matches - Dravid even scored a century for Canterbury - and will temper a batting line-up whose biggest pitfall could be a hangover from the six-a-minute one-day internationals.
The longer format will be a relief for the New Zealand bowlers who failed to quell India's ultra-aggressive batsmen in the ODIs. It is also an opportunity for the hosts to score a rare series victory over a high-profile team. New Zealand's last victory against opposition other than Zimbabwe, Bangladesh or a struggling West Indies was the 1-0 win at home against Sri Lanka in 2004-05.
The hosts have also added new personnel to their Test squad in James Franklin, Chris Martin, Brent Arnel, Tim McIntosh, and Daniel Flynn. Martin Guptill, their ODI and Twenty20 batsman, is preparing to make the transition to the five-day format. Their squad is filled with novices compared to India's wealth of experience. For instance, Sachin Tendulkar has 4458 Test runs more than the entire New Zealand squad put together. A victory against India will be nothing less than a major coup for the hosts.
Test form guide(last five matches, most recent first)
New Zealand - DDLLD
The hosts' last Test victory was against Bangladesh in Chittagong in October 2008, a series they won after the second Test was drawn. Since then they've suffered two heavy defeats in Australia and drew the home series against West Indies after both the Tests were spoilt by poor weather.
India - DWWDW
India, on the other hand, have not lost a Test since their tour of Sri Lanka in August 2008. They bounced back from that series defeat by beating Australia 2-0 in a four-Test series at home, and also beat England 1-0 in a two-Test contest.
Watch out for ...
James Franklin is no longer a left-arm swing bowler who can make a handy contribution with the bat in the lower-order. During his recovery from a knee injury, he has improved his batting and developed into an allrounder. He even has a double-century in the State Championship and is set to take Jacob Oram's spot in the batting line-up. "We want Frankie to bat No. 6 tomorrow," Daniel Vettori said. "I think that's his preferred role and he probably won't have as big a role with the ball as he has had in the past. He won't be expected to bowl 20-25 overs an innings. We really want to maximise his batting abilities. He is in fantastic form and he feels comfortable as a batter."
Virender Sehwag was the bane of New Zealand's bowling attack during the one-day series. ""I love it," he said of the short boundaries and the placid pitches after pillaging 125 runs off 74 balls in the fourth ODI in Hamilton. The pitches will not be as placid in the Tests, the boundary rope might be pushed back further, and the ball could do a bit more in the mornings. Sehwag, however, isn't likely to alter his approach too much. He scored 299 runs at a strike-rate of 150 in the ODIs and will continue to take advantage of every scoring opportunity in the Tests. "He [Sehwag] plays the way he wants to play, because that's his natural style," said Dhoni. "We all know if he gets going he can dominate the bowlers and all of a sudden you see the bowling attack rattled. We have seen if he plays for two hours or three hours, he is a batsman who is capable of getting big scores. He is not the kind who gets out in 30s or 40s or 50s or 60s."
New Zealand will bat Franklin at No. 6 and Guptill will make his debut as an opener, which leaves two spots up for grabs. Who fills one of those places will depend on whether New Zealand play the second spinner in Jeetan Patel. If they do, then it will be at the expense of either Kyle Mills or Iain O'Brien. However, it's unlikely that New Zealand will play a second spinner against the Indian batting line-up.
The other spot will be taken by either Chris Martin or the Northern Districts fast bowler Arnel. There was some controversy over Martin's inclusion in the squad but Vettori said he was "always a big fan of Chris". "I think he has done a fair job for New Zealand for a long time and the selectors know that as well. We just want to make sure he is back to his best. I have been impressed with the way he has trained, with the way he has bowled."
New Zealand (likely): 1 Tim McIntosh, 2 Martin Guptill, 3 Daniell Flynn, 4 Ross Taylor, 5 Jesse Ryder, 6 James Franklin, 7 Brendon McCullum (wk), 8 Daniel Vettori (capt), 9 Kyle Mills, 10 Iain O'Brien, 11 Chris Martin/Brent Arnel.
Ten out of India's XI pick themselves. The only spot that isn't certain is that of the third seamer who will support the new-ball attack of Zaheer Khan and Ishant Sharma. The choice is between L Balaji and Munaf Patel. Balaji has been recovering from injuries and last played a Test for India in March 2005. Munaf played three ODIs on the tour of New Zealand but was in poor form, conceding 93 runs from 9.2 overs.
India (likely): 1 Gautam Gambhir, 2 Virender Sehwag, 3 Rahul Dravid, 4 Sachin Tendulkar, 5 VVS Laxman, 6 Yuvraj Singh, 7 Mahendra Singh Dhoni (capt & wk), 8 Harbhajan Singh, 9 Zaheer Khan, 10 Ishant Sharma, 11 L Balaji/ Munaf Patel.
Pitch & conditions
New Zealand scored 270 for 5 in the Seddon Park ODI, and Sehwag and Gambhir ransacked 201 runs off 23.3 overs before rain handed India victory by the D/L method. The Test-match pitch, according to Vettori, "will be pretty flat". "Maybe win the toss and bat first, but we just have to wait and see how it shapes up," he said. "There is a little bit of live grass on it but generally it is a pretty good deck here."
Dhoni felt that the conditions would help the seamers more than the pitch. "Looks like a good wicket, definitely there will be a bit of help for the seamers," he said "More than the wicket, the conditions will favour bowlers, the ball will move."
The weather in Hamilton on the two days leading up to the Test has been hot and clear. However, there are showers forecast for the second and third days of the match.
Stats and trivia
- New Zealand have played 14 Tests in Hamilton of which they've won six, lost two and drawn six. Their win-loss ratio of 3.00 at Seddon Park is the best among all home venues. India have played three Tests here, losing one and drawing two.
- Dravid has scored 341 runs at an average of 113.66 in two Tests in Hamilton. Ross Taylor averages 63 in his only Test at this venue while Vettori also averages a healthy 44.50 in eight Tests.
- Vettori was successful in his first three Tests in Hamilton, taking 14 wickets at 21.71 apiece with a strike-rate of 53.00. However, his returns have been poor in his last five Tests here - 10 wickets at 50.00 each and a strike-rate of 122.
"You have got to take them on. The war of attrition probably won't work. I think we have got to be aggressive but in saying that, we have got to be disciplined. Those are the things we didn't quite get right in the one-day series. We didn't stick at our plans for long enough. In a Test match you just have to do that, otherwise a side like India will blow you off the park."
Vettori says his team will have to be disciplined yet aggressive in order to beat India.
"I am not bothered about whether we have won here or not. I am just bothered about the things we need to do over here as a team. We are not thinking about what happened in the past. I am not great when it comes to stats, so that really helps."
Dhoni isn't burdened by history.
George Binoy is a senior sub-editor at Cricinfo