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The Kiwi Test begins

cricket Updated: Nov 03, 2010 23:58 IST
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There are many ways of looking at the first Test between India and New Zealand starting here on Thursday.

It's easy to dub it a statistical mismatch considering the huge difference in the achievements of the players of the two teams. The experience and skill factors too are tilted heavily in India's favour.

New Zealand have won just two of the 26 Tests they played in India, the last victory coming before Sachin Tendulkar began his journey in international cricket, in 1988.

Their last away Test win, apart from against Bangladesh and Zimbabwe, came versus the West Indies in 2002. And skipper Daniel Vettori is the only player in this touring party with the experience of playing a Test in India, who have lost just nine of the 55 Tests at home this millennium, winning 24.

Numbers matter when it comes to selling Test cricket in the days of T20. That's why there was hardly anybody visiting the ticket counters at the Sardar Patel Gujarat Stadium here. Who will pay to watch what looks like an uneven contest beamed live on TV anyway?

Different for players

The story, however, changes completely when it comes to those who get paid to play. There was no letup in intensity when the Indians had nets on Wednesday morning. The sound of ball thudding into boards with soft padding behind the stumps meant bowlers were bending their backs. And notes ranging from sweet to not-so-sweet when willow met leather showed that the batters too were trying to middle the ball.

There was no lack of energy when the New Zealanders came out for fielding drills either. They ran hard, threw themselves around, conveying a message that, at least before the start, there was no shortage in effort and commitment.

Forget being unmotivated, they have every reason to give of their best, for something good here will go a long way in partly erasing the nightmare of their recent tour of Bangladesh.

Matter of momentum

MS Dhoni hit bullseye when asked how close to his heart the world No. 1 ranking was.

"Wining matches is closer. To all players and members of the support staff, that is the biggest thing. If we win, rankings will take care of themselves," the India captain said.

Asked whether success increases the hunger to succeed, he said: "Irrespective of whether you are winning or losing, you always try to win the next one. And if you are expected to do well, it means extra responsibility. For us, it's important to sustain the momentum."

The way his team trained over the past three days after reuniting here, there is nothing to suggest that this was an idle statement from Dhoni.

Plenty to play for

His top batsmen and bowlers are fit. Pitch curator Dhiraj Parsana predicted there would be carry early on and spin later despite the ground being flooded by heavy rainfall two months ago and Dhoni hinted he would go in with two pacers and spinners apiece. Whoever he opts for, there will be lots for everybody to play for. Berths in the South Africa-bound squad, World Cup, IPL contracts - there are many incentives. The last two apply for the visitors as well.

Therefore nobody should be short on motivation even if before a ball is bowled, this seems like a clash among unequals.