Weakened Kiwis won't be pushovers

India cannot take New Zealand lightly in the tri-series opener

Weakened Kiwis won't be pushovers

More than half the Test squad of 16 has returned home – the nine returnees have made way for eight one-day specialists – and while no batting line-up can remain unaffected in the absence of Sachin Tendulkar and Gautam Gambhir, it is the bowling that will be under scrutiny when India take on New Zealand in the tournament opener at the Rangiri Dambulla International stadium under artificial lights of questionable quality on Tuesday.

Two regular members of the four-pronged specialist attack, Zaheer Khan and Harbhajan Singh, have been rendered hors de combat by injury. How the support cast steps up to the task and complements Ashish Nehra and Praveen Kumar will determine the quality of India’s bench strength, particularly in the spinning department.

Great opportunity

Minus Harbhajan, it’s a great opportunity for at least one, if not both, of left-arm spinner Pragyan Ojha and off-spinner R Ashwin to nail down a spot. Ojha will start as the principal tweaker because of his greater experience and the huge doses of confidence he will have gathered from his impressive showing in the P Sara Test, though Ashwin is a more versatile package, improved as a fielder and more than handy with the bat.
The progress of Ishant Sharma too will make for interesting viewing, even if the Delhi pacer has been ruled out of Tuesday’s clash with an ankle injury. Ishant has fallen some way from the promise of two years back, a series of technical flaws necessitating his omission from the one-day set-up. Back in the mix after impressive spells in the Test series, he – like the other quicks -- will welcome appreciable assistance from the Dambulla strip, especially under lights when the ball does more than a fair bit.
The mad rush for middle-order berths should bring the best out of the likes of Virat Kohli, Rohit Sharma and Yuvraj Singh, back in favour after being dropped for the Asia Cup, though Gambhir’s unavailability means at least temporarily, there is an opportunity for someone, possibly Dinesh Kaarthick, to make an impression at the top of the order.

Thin look

New Zealand wear a relatively thin look without Daniel Vettori, Brendon McCullum and Jesse Ryder, but they can be taken lightly only at one’s own peril. The Kiwis have been eternal fighters, oftentimes playing above themselves, but stand-in skipper Ross Taylor will have to lead from the front and expect the likes of Martin Guptill, Scott Styris, Nathan McCullum and Jacob Oram to pull their weight if they are to remain competitive throughout the competition.

The Kiwis won both practice games comfortably against Sri Lankan Board XI sides, but they aren’t unaware that the big boys, and battles, are round the corner. Their attitude makes them dangerous, though on class and experience, they appear some way behind India and the third team in the tournament, Sri Lanka.

Teams (from):
India: Mahendra Singh Dhoni (capt), Virender Sehwag, Virat Kohli, Suresh Raina, Rohit Sharma, Yuvraj Singh, Ravindra Jadeja, Praveen Kumar, Ashish Nehra, Pragyan Ojha, Dinesh Kaarthick, Abhimanyu Mithun, Saurabh Tiwary, R Ashwin.
New Zealand: Ross Taylor (capt), BJ Watling, Peter Ingram, Martin Guptill, Grant Elliott, Scott Styris, Gareth Hopkins, Kyle Mills, Nathan McCullum, Andy McKay, Jacob Oram, Jeetan Patel, Tim Southee, Daryl Tuffey, Kane Williamson.
Umpires: Simon Taufel (Australia) and Ranmore Martinesz.
Hours of play: 1430-1800 hours and 1845-end of play.

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