The excitement building up in the New Zealand capital in anticipation of a sporting showdown is palpable. But has everything to do with the Wellington leg of the rugby sevens World Series that is barely a week away. The buzz is all around the smaller format of the country’s national sport.
The Westpac Stadium, which plays host to those sell-out games in the 16-nation tournament, will first roll out its drop-in pitch to deal with New Zealand’s summer sport. There is a quiet expectation that the Kiwis will complete a 4-0 series triumph on Friday. Few believe India will fight back after the manner in which they came apart in the fourth ODI in Hamilton, losing by seven wickets.
As India trained at the Basin Reserve nets on Thursday morning, coach Duncan Fletcher was in an animated conversation with off-spinner Ravichandran Ashwin. Although skipper MS Dhoni has defended the bowler, his inability to strike in the middle overs has only brought more pressure on the young and erratic pacers. Arguments and counter arguments flowed back and forth before Fletcher, who must be feeling the pressure again as he did two seasons ago, walked across to talk to another player in turmoil, batsman Suresh Raina.
India are traditionally slow starters. Although they lost both the Test and One-day series in South Africa, there were many gutsy performances in the longer version, particularly with the bat. In New Zealand, neither the India batsmen or the bowlers have been able to find a way around the tactics of the hosts – building up early partnerships before launching into attacks with the bat and bowling short to keep the batsmen guessing.
After Dhoni castigated his bowlers by saying it was time they used their brains, Jadeja added panic to the list. "We just need to avoid panicking and we can get positive results," he said after conceding the pitches in this series have defeated Indian spinners.
While his late order batting has been excellent, Jadeja has, like Ashwin, struggled to take wickets. But he had to fend questions about the mood in the camp "There is no confusion," he said. "It is just that we panic a bit and we have to reduce that percentage, those little errors."
Although Ashwin and Jadeja have not made an impact with the ball so far, Dhoni has shown no faith in the other, more experienced, slow bowler. One of only two players who have not got a game so far, leg-spinner Amit Mishra should be feeling let down.
Although Zimbabwe are a weak opposition, Mishra captured 18 wickets in the 5-0 ODI series victory late last year. But Virat Kohli was the captain. Since then he has played one match, against Australia in Nagpur, returning 0-78 during that high-scoring series. Mishra has often come across as someone who needs encouragement from the team management to perform to his best. He also went to South Africa but returned without getting a game.
Ishwar Pandey, last year’s leading wickettaker in Ranji Trophy, is the other player who is waiting to get a game. He is also in the Test team as a reserve bowler and it will be important to play him in this inconsequential game.
New Zealand will rest paceman Tim Southee and left-arm Michell McClenaghan is expected to be back in the eleven. All-rounder Corey Anderson, said to be nursing a few niggles, may be rested again.