India look to avenge Motera setback

India look to avenge Motera setback

Spinners, Gambhir need to get their act right

Low on confidence after their drubbing in Bangladesh, Daniel Vettori’s men typified the resolve and resilience so integral to New Zealand cricket by forcing India to stretch every sinew in the first Test in Ahmedabad.

It required great character, vision and pluck from VVS Laxman and the combative Harbhajan Singh for India to salvage some pride after Chris Martin’s extraordinary burst on day four had pushed them to the brink.

Seriously stung by the stunning collapse that left them gasping at 15 for five, India’s top-order must believe it’s payback time when the second Test gets under way on Friday.

The swank, beautifully carpeted Rajiv Gandhi International stadium, a wonderful fusion of the traditional and the modern, offers the perfect setting for the Indian top to set stall. A first Test at this venue, and the first in 22 years in this historic city, calls for a celebration of sorts; an expectant crowd will settle for nothing less than a 50th Test ton from Sachin Tendulkar and another vintage display from local lad Laxman.

Cracks

Recent results notwithstanding, it hasn’t been an all-conquering run for Mahendra Singh Dhoni’s team. Several cracks have been papered over by pockets of individual brilliance.

The spinners have struggled to make an impact, while the second-innings batting has been a long way short of convincing. This is as good an opportunity as any for Harbhajan to translate his resolve with the bat to magic with the ball. His spirit broken easily by the flat track in Ahmedabad, Harbhajan should relish the extra bounce here. His batting heroics in the first Test do not in any way absolve him of lack of sustained penetration with the ball, a fact not lost on the offie himself.

Dhoni conceded that India had pondered long and hard over their stunning top-order collapses in the second innings of three of their last four Tests. There is far too much quality among the top six for the pressures of a second-innings conundrum to repeatedly get to them. Laxman can’t be expected to clean up the mess and bail the team time after time.

One of the primary reasons for those collapses has been the lack of a substantial opening partnership, caused mainly by Gautam Gambhir’s extraordinarily poor run. The left-hander has failed to survive the first over four times in his last six hits, and while he enjoys Dhoni and the team management’s confidence for now, it is difficult to see him keeping Murali Vijay out if he continues to flounder thus.

The prospect of extra bounce could see a return of the hit-the-deck Ishant Sharma ahead of S Sreesanth. The latter had a decent game in Ahmedabad, but Ishant’s ability to hurry the batsmen and work well alongside Zaheer Khan could tilt the scales in his favour, especially considering the working over he gave the batsmen at practice on Thursday.

Extra pace

New Zealand will miss the extra pace of Hamish Bennett, the reasonably impressive left-arm quick who has since returned home with a groin injury. Tim Southee is a near shoo-in to replace Bennett, but despite their competitive display in Ahmedabad, the Kiwis are contemplating further unforced changes.

Their reading of the surface might lure them into picking Bennett’s replacement, left-arm swing bowler James Franklin, ahead of offie Jeetan Patel, while Bradley-John Watling at number three could make way for Martin Guptill.

Like Gambhir, Tim McIntosh had a disaster game in Ahmedabad, but the stodgy left-handed opener might keep his place largely because Guptill no longer opens the batting. There is both flair and steel in the New Zealand batting.

The radiance of Brendon McCullum and Ross Taylor are complemented neatly by the adaptability and determination of Jesse Ryder and the classy Kane Williamson. New Zealand are no pushovers; India, though, have what it takes to push them over.

Teams (from):

India: Mahendra Singh Dhoni (capt), Gautam Gambhir, Virender Sehwag, Rahul Dravid, Sachin Tendulkar, VVS Laxman, Suresh Raina, Harbhajan Singh, Ishant Sharma, Zaheer Khan, Pragyan Ojha, S Sreesanth, Murali Vijay, Cheteshwar Pujara, Amit Mishra.

New Zealand: Daniel Vettori (capt), Brendon McCullum, Tim McIntosh, Martin Guptill, Ross Taylor, Jesse Ryder, Kane Williamson, Gareth Hopkins, James Franklin, Tim Southee, Chris Martin, BJ Watling, Jeetan Patel, Andy McKay, Brent Arnel.

Umpires: Simon Taufel (Australia) and Kumar Dharmasena (Sri Lanka). Third umpire: Amiesh Saheba. Match referee: Ranjan Madugalle (Sri Lanka).

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