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New ball not biting enough

cricket Updated: Dec 02, 2010 00:17 IST
Nikhilesh Bhattacharya
Nikhilesh Bhattacharya
Hindustan Times
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Brendon McCullum's failure to recover from a bad back has robbed the Indian bowlers of a golden opportunity to find answers to a vexing question ahead of the World Cup: how to bowl to an attacking batsman at the top of the order.

They may still get an opportunity in the last three matches of the ODI series, but the New Zealand top three, comprising Martin Guptill, Jamie How and Kane Williamson, that has remained unchanged in Guwahati and here clearly do not pose the same challenge.

Given that, it is disappointing that India's new-ball bowlers, Ashish Nehra and Sreesanth, have taken only a wicket each in their first spells so far in the series (see box).

Yes, they were bowling on flat decks under the afternoon sun, conditions not best suited to pace bowling, but that is how things will be in the World Cup and failure to take early wickets can result in huge totals.

Nehra took the wicket of How in the first match and also had a catch dropped, but here the left-arm medium-pacer hardly looked threatening.

He was getting the ball to move into the right-handers but not at great pace. His two attempts at bouncers were dealt with aplomb by the 20-year-old Williamson, who is not the most attacking batsman New Zealand has produced.

Sreesanth looked more threatening. The right-armer was getting the ball to move away from on or outside off-stump at speeds just below the 135kmp mark. Captain Gautam Gambhir was ready to give him two slips, while Nehra got one along with a short mid-wicket.

More importantly, though, Sreesanth was bringing the batsmen forward without bowling half-volleys. One such ball on good length got How's outside edge and wicketkeeper Wriddhiman Saha did the rest. That was to be India's only wicket with the new white ball on Wednesday.

To their credit, neither leaked runs, but they were helped by the inexperience in the New Zealand top three. Add Brendon McCullum to the mix and the task in front of the new-ball bowlers looks tougher because then they would also have to start worrying about some big hits. And that is the kind of challenge the World Cup will provide.