India v New Zealand, Group E, Johannesburg September 15, 2007

Stiff challenge for wounded New Zealand



Peter Fulton could be the surprise package and his height an awkward factor, forcing the Indian bowlers to adjust their length © AFP

The first phase of the tournament is out of the way, taking with it four teams which couldn't make the cut. Phase Two starts on Sunday, and given their most recent performances, India might even start off as favourites in their first Super Eights match against New Zealand at the Wanderers: India pulled off a nail-biter against Pakistan courtesy a bowl-out, while New Zealand were drubbed by Sri Lanka.

In such a short format, though, momentum counts for little. Both teams will be aware of that, and also of trend of games at this ground. The conditions have been loaded in favour of the batsmen so far, while the team chasing has had much the better of the matches. Win the toss and field will probably be the mantra, especially since the match will start at 10am in the morning.

Bat play: Both teams have power hitters who could make the most of the flat pitch and the quick outfield here. Save for Robin Uthappa, the rest of India's top order failed badly against Pakistan, and will need to turn in a much-improved performance. They are unlikely to tinker too much with their batting line-up, giving Gautam Gambhir another chance at the top of the order with Virender Sehwag.

New Zealand's batting against Sri Lanka was patchy too, with only Ross Taylor going on to make a significant contribution, but their top seven are all powerful hitters, and if a few of them get stuck, India could have plenty of work to do in the field.

With the ball coming on to the bat and not doing much in the air or off the pitch, Bond's pace leaves him vulnerable against the big hitters

Wrecking ball: New Zealand have the better bowling attack on paper, but Shane Bond, their spearhead, was taken to the cleaners on Saturday. With the ball coming on to the bat and not doing much in the air or off the pitch, Bond's pace leaves him vulnerable against the big hitters. A few new-ball wickets from him, though, and India could be on the back foot again, like they were when Mohammad Asif struck in each of his four overs in Durban.

The Indian attack bowled cannily at the Kingsmead, and the most impressive aspect was the fact that Irfan Pathan seemed in excellent rhythm. He will be tested much more in Johannesburg, though, as will all the bowlers. Harbhajan Singh's accuracy in the last overs could be critical.

Keep your eye on: Peter Fulton. He seemed to getting into his stride when he fell against Sri Lanka. His ability to pack a punch with his strokes isn't in doubt, while his height could be an awkward factor, forcing the Indian bowlers to adjust their length.

Shop talk: The Indians have made one change to the XII that was selected against Pakistan, bringing in Piyush Chawla, the legspinner, for Rohit Sharma. Lalchand Rajput, the Indian team manager, indicated that the team had worked out specific plans for each of the New Zealand batsmen, while their own focus while batting would be to build partnerships.

Vettori, the New Zealand captain, said it would ultimately boil down to how well they played, not what the opposition did. "They [India] played pretty well against Pakistan. They've got a good bowling attack and I think the openers will do a good job for them. But while we will scout them out and try to find a way to beat them, I think it all comes back to our own performance and we've got to lift that from what we did today."

Pitching it right: Expect another belter, and with the outfield being so quick, spectators are likely to be treated to another deluge of runs.

Teams

India (from): Virender Sehwag, Robin Uthappa, Gautam Gambhir, Yuvraj Singh, Dinesh Karthik, Mahendra Singh Dhoni (capt & wk), Irfan Pathan, Ajit Agarkar, Harbhajan Singh, RP Singh, Sreesanth

New Zealand (likely): Brendon McCullum(wk), Lou Vincent, Peter Fulton, Ross Taylor, Scott Styris, Jacob Oram, Craig McMillan, Daniel Vettori (capt), Shane Bond, Mark Gillespie, Chris Martin

S Rajesh is stats editor of Cricinfo