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India seek whitewash, Kiwis pride

cricket Updated: Dec 10, 2010 00:25 IST
Nikhilesh Bhattacharya
Nikhilesh Bhattacharya
Hindustan Times
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The MA Chidambaram Stadium here is being reconstructed ahead of next year's World Cup. The complex was crawling with earth movers, cranes and hundreds of labourers on Thursday, less than 24 hours before the fifth and final One-day International between India and New Zealand.

However, that is not the only thing that gave the build-up to the game a makeshift feel.

India already have a stand-in captain for this series, with Gautam Gambhir having replaced the rested MS Dhoni at the helm. Thursday pre-match media conference was addressed by India's bowling coach Eric Simons, standing in for Gary Kirsten.

Coach Kirsten, along with the majority of India's Test squad, is already in South Africa preparing for the three-match series against the hosts. The squad includes the likes of Sachin Tendulkar, Dhoni, Virender Sehwag and Harbhajan Singh, who are certainties in the 50-over team too.

However, before the country's focus shifts completely to the southern hemisphere, Gambhir and his second-string one-day side have some unfinished business here. A win in Friday's match in this hot and humid port city will help India complete a series whitewash.

That should be incentive enough for the team to go all out against the visitors, who must be counting down the days for their return to New Zealand. Individuals, too, will be keen to shine in what will be India's last ODI in the subcontinent before next year's World Cup.

All 15 members of the squad are expected to make it to the pool of 30 World Cup probables that will be picked in the next few days. A big performance here will also boost their chances of breaking into the final 15 when that is declared.

Gambhir, along with Zaheer Khan and M Vijay, will join Dhoni and Co. in South Africa right after the end of this series. Some of the others may also fly to South Africa later for the T20 and one-day series that follow the Tests. Being picked in the limited-over sides to South Africa means more chances to impress the selectors.

Most of the medium-pacers, with the exception of R Vinay Kumar who did not get a game despite being with the squad for the first three matches, appear to have done enough in the series to impress the team management. "It is a good situation to have where they are challenging for places," Simons said about the pacers.

For New Zealand, Friday's match will end their India tour that began with much promise in the first two Tests before turning into a replay of their Bangladesh nightmare. The team toured Sri Lanka, Bangladesh and India in the past six months in the hope that it would be ideal preparation ahead of the World Cup.

Instead, they have strung together a sequence of 10 straight losses.