New Zealand v India, 3rd Test, Wellington April 2, 2009

India wait on Dhoni's fitness for decider

Match facts

Friday, April 3, 2009
Start time 11.00am local (22.00 GMT)

The Big Picture

In 1968, Mansur Ali Khan Pataudi's men triumphed by eight wickets in Wellington to take a 2-1 lead. A win in the next Test sealed what is still India's only Test series win in New Zealand. On Friday, MS Dhoni (or perhaps Virender Sehwag) will lead his charges at the Basin Reserve in pursuit of a victory that would end a 41-year drought in New Zealand. The Indians had an opportunity to close out the series in Napier but instead they had to produce a tremendous batting performance spanning more than two days to save their 1-0 lead.

New Zealand bounced back admirably from a thrashing in the first Test to stretch India at McLean Park. They dominated the first three days: the batsmen answered Daniel Vettori's request to bat 120 overs by scoring 619 in 154.4 before the bowlers secured a 314-run lead. After enforcing the follow-on on the third evening, they were thwarted by India's batsmen who were determined not to repeat their first-innings mistakes on the most placid of pitches. It was hard to say who held the upper hand at the end of the Test. Had it been a boxing match, like Iain O'Brien said, New Zealand would have won on points, but the fact was that they could only take 14 Indian wickets despite one of their best efforts.

India, on the other hand, will take confidence from their series-saving effort in Napier. They cannot lose the series and they will be hoping their chances of victory are boosted by the return of Dhoni, who missed the second Test because of back spasms and is not a certainty for the third. Without Dhoni, India lacked their edge in the field and his replacement Virender Sehwag appeared bereft of ideas and inspiration when Ross Taylor, Jesse Ryder and Brendon McCullum were plundering runs. Dinesh Karthik was also an inadequate replacement both behind the stumps and with the bat.

Test form guide

(last five matches, most recent first)

New Zealand - DLDDL
India - DWDWW
India beat Australia, England and New Zealand over their last five games, while New Zealand suffered heavy defeats against Australia and India during this period.

Watch out for ...

Jesse Ryder has excelled in all disciplines during this series. He's bowled steadily and broken partnerships, taken athletic catches, and scored buckets of runs. He made 102 in Hamilton, 201 in Napier and his presence in the middle-order has bolstered a batting line-up that has a brittle top. Ryder credited coach Andy Moles and John Wright for his success and said he was eager to carry on. He was visibly upset at being dismissed the ball after reaching his maiden double-century and said it was because, "I just wanted to keep going and get as many as I can. You don't really get many opportunities in Test cricket once you get to 200. I just wanted to go on and break Martin Crowe's record [of 299]."

Virender Sehwag destroyed the New Zealand attack in the one-day series but he has got himself out after aggressive starts in the two Tests. His captaincy was bland in Napier and his shot-selection was appalling and so it will be absorbing to see how he goes about his game if he has to lead the team again in Wellington. He's got off to quick starts in two out of three innings so if he can restrain himself from trying to smash the spinner's every ball out of Basin Reserve, he might succeed in Wellington.

Team news

New Zealand still have an injury concern over Daniel Flynn who looked good while batting in the nets on the eve of the match. They will take a call on his participation in the Test only on Friday morning and continue to have Jamie How, who failed at McLean Park, on stand-by. James Franklin was also poor, going wicketless in both Tests, but he scored a half-century in Napier and is likely to retain his spot.

"I've been impressed with how James has bowled," Vettori said. "He's been unlucky. That he hasn't taken wickets, I know, has disappointed him but talking to the guys behind the stumps, they've been impressed with the way the ball's been coming through and that's an encouraging sign. So I would say he will make the team, we just have to figure out of the rest of the balance."

The other decision New Zealand will have to make is whether to play the second spinner Jeetan Patel. They haven't played two spinners in Wellington since the Zimbabwe Test in December 2000 but a brown, dry, and hard pitch could work in Patel's favour. New Zealand will have to choose one among Patel, Kyle Mills and Tim Southee for the final spot.

New Zealand (likely): 1 Tim McIntosh, 2 Martin Guptill, 3 Daniel Flynn/Jamie How, 4 Ross Taylor, 5 Jesse Ryder, 6 James Franklin, 7 Brendon McCullum (wk), 8 Daniel Vettori (capt), 9 Jeetan Patel/Kyle Mills/Tim Southee, 10 Iain O'Brien, 11 Chris Martin.

India's only concern was Dhoni's fitness. Dhoni said his back had improved a lot but would take a call only on the morning of the game. He batted and kept wickets while training but wore a sort of belt to support his back. "It has improved a lot, but we have to see how I am before the game because that will be very vital," Dhoni said. "It's a Test match, not a one-day game, where you know the maximum you have to keep for is 50 overs. In a Test match, on a good flat track, you should be ready for 120 overs. I'll have to see how I am tomorrow morning."

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)/Dinesh Karthik, 8 Harbhajan Singh, 9 Zaheer Khan, 10 Ishant Sharma, 11 Munaf Patel.

Pitch & conditions

Vettori wanted a pitch that would assist his bowlers since New Zealand need a victory to level the series but he saw a brown, hard surface without any live grass. "I've never seen a Basin wicket like this in my life so I'll say it's not [a typical Basin Reserve wicket], but that isn't to say it's not a good Test-match wicket," Vettori said. "We'll have to wait and see because I haven't seen a Basin wicket as brown as this, or as dry or as hard as this, before. You normally expect the Basin wicket to have a bit in it before it settles down. Days two and three are pretty good batting days and then there's some inconsistent bounce later on."

Dhoni said he was "expecting a green track" and was "a bit surprised" at the pitch. "Looks like a nice track, so the bowlers will have to put in a hard job again. If batsmen are careful and their approach is good, you may see big scores on the board."

Dhoni, however, felt that the wind would aid the bowlers. "There is no pavilion, and the wind blows across the field, so definitely there will be swing for the fast bowlers and the same breeze can be used by the spinners to drift the ball. But it depends - today you know is warm, nice and cool, with not much of breeze around. But if it is breezy, like Wellington normally is, there will be a bit of help for the bowlers."

On the eve of the Test Wellington was sunny and not very windy. Similar conditions were expected on the first day but the winds could pick up on the weekend.

Stats and trivia

  • New Zealand have won four, and lost as many, out of the ten Tests they have played at the Basin Reserve since 2002. India have won only one of their five Tests here and lost the other four.

  • In the last ten Tests here, since 2002, fast bowlers have taken 254 wickets at an average of 26.47. The average for spinners - who have taken only 55 wickets during this period - is exactly ten runs more.

  • Kyle Mills has the best average in Wellington among the current New Zealand bowlers. His 15 wickets in four Tests have come at just under 24 apiece.

Click here for more stats.

Quotes

"It's not a line of thinking [risking a 2-0 loss to go for a win here]. We realise a 1-1 series would be a great result for us, so any opportunity that we have to win the Test match, I think we have to take. If that means putting ourselves under pressure with loss, yeah we'll definitely go down that road."
Vettori is prepared to risk defeat in pursuit of a win..

"We certainly don't do any strategising around playing for a draw. We want to go and win every Test match and that's going to be our intention in this one."
Gary Kirsten, the India coach, said his team will not play to protect their lead.

George Binoy is a senior sub-editor at Cricinfo