New Zealand v India, Videocon Cup final, Harare September 5, 2005

The Bond factor could be decisive

Bond's pace and accuracy wrecked India at Bulawayo © Getty Images

Much has changed since India and New Zealand last contested a final on African soil, at the ICC Knockout in October 2000. Back then, John Wright and professionalism lay in the future, while Sourav Ganguly was the fresh-faced leader entrusted with dissipating the gloom caused by the match-fixing scandal and a disastrous performance at the 1999 World Cup.

In those days, Ganguly was also the best one-day batsman in the world, outshining even the peerless Sachin Tendulkar with classy contributions in the matches that mattered. At Nairobi, only his second assignment as captain, he led from the front, smashing a brilliant century that obliterated the South African challenge in the semi-final, and carried on in the same vein in the summit clash, stroking a delightful 117 as New Zealand were set 265 to win.

But Ganguly wasn't the only one enjoying a halcyon year in 2000. Chris Cairns had put injury troubles and a lack of consistency behind him to become one of the world's most-feared allrounders, and it was his blistering century that saw New Zealand home with two balls to spare after India had reduced them to 132 for 5.

The other high-profile African clash resulted in a seven-wicket victory for India at the last World Cup, a result that was nowhere near as straightforward as the scoreboard suggests. And since then, the two teams have journeyed in very different directions, with India regressing and New Zealand - despite Shane Bond missing over two years of cricket - becoming one of the few teams hard on Australia's heels.

They have won 26 matches and lost 21 since their failure to make the World Cup semi-final, and the fact that 10 of those defeats have been against Australia indicates just how competitive they've been against other sides. India too have suffered at Australian hands, losing eight of 10 encounters, but an overall record of 27 wins - a whopping 13 of them against minnows - and 29 losses since the World Cup reveals just how badly this team has lost the ODI plot.

New Zealand also have the edge in the head-to-head stakes, having won nine and lost six of the 16 matches the teams have played since Nairobi. The two matches in this tournament suggested that there was little between the two teams, with the sheer pace and accuracy of Shane Bond the only X-factor on view.

Bond, who was rested for last Friday's game against India, ran riot in Bulawayo and will need to be seen off if India are to harbour any hopes of success. Daniel Vettori will also be back, having no doubt observed how the Indian batsmen, with the exception of Mahendra Singh Dhoni, have struggled to put away the slow bowlers.

Cairns, hero of New Zealand's finest ODI hour, will miss out injured, but recent performances didn't indicate a telling contribution in any case. Like Ganguly, he's a man whose best years are well in the past. New Zealand will be more worried about the fitness of Jacob Oram, back from a long-term layoff.

India have few worries on the bowling front, except for the pallid performances of Harbhajan Singh - seven wickets from eight matches at 43.71 this season. Ashish Nehra and Irfan Pathan will be back for the final, with Rudra Pratap Singh and the unimpressive Murali Kartik making way. The batting should also see a change with Suresh Raina, a lively presence in the inner circle, replacing Venugopal Rao, whose methods suggest that Test matches would be his natural habitat.

Centuries from Yuvraj Singh and Mohammad Kaif in the last two games have helped gloss over the deep cracks at the top of the order, but the scrutiny will no doubt increase once Bond takes the new ball. India, though, can also take heart from the displays of Jai Prakash Yadav, whose composure with both bat and ball have been invaluable in this tournament.

In a match between two teams that rarely do the business when it matters at the end of a tournament - New Zealand haven't often reached that far - it could well be individual brilliance that tilts the scales. In a high-scoring match, it's invariably the lethal spell of bowling that separates two sides, and in that respect, it's hard to look beyond Bond, whose classical action, frightening pace and immaculate control are the envy of everyone else.


India (likely): Sourav Ganguly (capt), Virender Sehwag, Mohammad Kaif, Rahul Dravid, Yuvraj Singh, Mahendra Singh Dhoni (wk), Jai Prakash Yadav, Ajit Agarkar, Irfan Pathan, Harbhajan Singh, Ashish Nehra. Supersub: Suresh Raina.

New Zealand (likely): Stephen Fleming (capt), Nathan Astle, Lou Vincent, Hamish Marshall, Scott Styris, Jacob Oram, Craig McMillan, Brendon McCullum (wk), Daniel Vettori, Andre Adams, Shane Bond. Supersub: Kyle Mills.

Dileep Premachandran is assistant editor of Cricinfo