If you were the coach of the New Zealand team, what would you do to try and squeeze out a win in one of the two remaining matches? When calculations are upset in India and the home side finds itself on the back foot, it’s not odd to see a rank turner or even a slightly under-prepared surface being served up.
Some people like to cry foul when this happens, but the fact remains that there is nothing malicious in preparing pitches to suit your own team.
In the Davis Cup, surfaces are often chosen not just with the aim of aiding one’s own team but also to blunt the strengths of the visitors. With that in mind, you would have thought New Zealand would have served up a green seamer in McLean Park.
But a look at the pitch on Wednesday revealed it was not dramatically different from any of the other surfaces encountered on tour. If anything, the hope was that there would be a bit of extra bounce and carry in what would otherwise be a good surface for batting.
That New Zealand have chosen not to put out a surface on which India’s batsmen would face the sternest examination is the biggest compliment they could have handed to Zaheer Khan, Ishant Sharma and Munaf Patel.
Zaheer has grown into one of the world’s leading practitioners of controlled swing and seam bowling in all conditions and there is no other exciting young prospect in international cricket than Ishant Sharma. Why even Munaf, who was a nervous wreck by the end of the ODIs, turned things around and emerged a useful support bowler. The confidence Mahendra Singh Dhoni in Munaf and the precise role designed for him — short, sharp spells bowled at good pace — ensured that the crucial breakthroughs were forthcoming.
The solidity of the Zaheer-Ishant combine has meant that Dhoni can do a bit with the third seamer, and this is likely to extend even to Indian conditions. With Anil Kumble gone and Harbhajan Singh being the only spinner who commands a place in the starting eleven, Dhoni will be tempted more and more to play a 3-1 combination and use his part-timers to chip in with spin.
The challenge for the likes of Munaf is to do the job day-in and day-out and ensure that each game is taken as an opportunity to contribute to the team’s cause. The second Test will be a crucial one for Munaf, for it’s not everyday that history beckons and you’re given an opportunity to answer the call.