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India look to deliever KO punch

cricket Updated: Mar 14, 2009 00:12 IST
Anand Vasu
Anand Vasu
Hindustan Times
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The air of expectation that has preceded each of the first four ODIs is almost missing before the final game in Auckland. Had it not been for Kiwi pride and the hunger of players on the India bench to get a piece of the action, this game would have been just another dead rubber. But the Test series that follows, with India not having won a series here in more than forty years, has ensured that the needle will remain till the last ball is bowled.

For Daniel Vettori the most important thing is for his team to show that the 2-2 draw against Australia was no fluke. This New Zealand team has made steady gains over the last 18 months, and when they execute their plans precisely - something we have heard a lot about all series - they can bring down the best in the world. That hasn't happened so far, and the final match offers them this shot at redemption.

India have little to prove, but the damage that Virender Sehwag and Gautam Gambhir did in the last game with their unbeaten, almost unchallenged, 201-run stand, can be built on. After all, the core of the two teams going into the Tests is the same, and you can be sure the bowlers will have a clear memory of how they were treated by the batsmen.

Dinesh Karthik, Pragyan Ojha and Irfan Pathan have not played at all in the ODIs and the team has the option of resting some key players.

Mahendra Singh Dhoni, who took a painful blow on the knee in the last match, could sit out, giving Karthik the gloves and Sehwag the reins. Zaheer Khan has been the stand-out quick bowler on either side and with pitches playing true he will have to shoulder a sizeable load in the Tests. Sachin Tendulkar is making steady progress towards full recovery from a bruised and sore abdominal muscle and the choice of taking further rest or having a match-hit before the Tests could be left to him.

Over the last two days in Auckland the Indian team has barely been given a chance to miss home. With 120,000 Indians or people of Indian origin in the city - the highest in New Zealand — the team has had its share of supporters and hangers on and every turn.

This, in itself, will provide motivation for the team as they go into the final match knowing that the series is already in the bag.