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HindustanTimes Sun,13 Jul 2014
Kiwi pacers keen on keeping 'foot on the throat' of Indian batsmen
N Ananthanarayanan, Hindustan Times
Whangarei, February 01, 2014
First Published: 16:06 IST(1/2/2014)
Last Updated: 17:37 IST(1/2/2014)
The New Zealand pace attack of (L-R) Hamish Benett, Kyle Mills, Mitchell McCleghan and Tim Southee. (AP Photo)

As much as they hate such a comparison, New Zealand have slipped into Aussie talk. The manner in which they have lorded over India on this tour has prompted some of the home media to asked about 'not taking the foot off the throat', seeking an overtly aggressive tone more familiar with the Australia camp. And the Kiwis are justifiably playing along.

Having shaken India with a relentless and smart pace attack, the hosts have promised to heap more misery on the visitors in the two-Test series starting on February 6. India should hardly complain.

The language of their batsmen has been so muted they face another rout unless they can make a miraculous turnaround, in terms of technique, mind set and sense of purpose. The first indications will come in the two-day warm-up game against a New Zealand XI starting at the Cobham Oval in this northern New Zealand town on Sunday.

For all the complaint that cricket is heavily tilted in favour of batsmen, this has been a season of the fast bowlers, after Mitchell Johnson left England devastated Down Under and Dale Steyn and Morne Morkel rocked India in the ODIs in South Africa.

In New Zealand, only Virat Kohli and skipper MS Dhoni responded to the pace ploy, although they were too few to make a difference in the end. Top order batsmen Rohit Sharma, Shikhar Dhawan, Ajinkya Rahane and Suresh Raina were exposed in the 0-4 ODI series rout. India can expect more of the same once the Test series starting, in Auckland on February 6.

New Zealand coach Mike Hesson had called for seaming pitches before the series. He marked out India's batsmen as the real threat. Tame them and half the battle is won. He didn't entirely have it his way but there was enough bounce and his pacers were so disciplined. India's pace bowlers were wasteful, spraying the ball.

It is not that Indian batsmen are not unaware of teams looking to hit them with pace. But the repeated failures leave them in a poor mental state going into the Tests.

New Zealand bowlers preyed on the batsmen's ego, offering little width for Rohit and Dhawan to drive or hoist over the 30-yard circle, exploiting their eagerness to get on to the front foot. And the line outside off-stump frustrated them.

With Virat Kohli and skipper MS Dhoni adapting during the ODIs, it remains to be seen whether Cheteshwar Pujara can galvanise the unit.
  
Like his Aussie counterpart Craig McDermott, New Zealand bowling coach Shane Bond has has backed raw aggression allied with discipline in his bowlers. They were given specific roles, and the execution was flawless. Kyle Mills and Tim Southee were asked to bowl tightly while left-arm Mitchell McClenaghan and Hamish Bennet had the licence to attack.

"We are keen to see our bowlers hostile and aggressive with the ball in hand and its good that we have bowlers who can do that. So, it's certainly a tactic we will look to employ in the Test series," skipper Brendon McCullum warned after the final ODI.

Hesson explained the pace plans. "The conditions allow, absolutely," he said. "It is the ability to push guys back and then bowl their natural length, the ability to do that, and obviously presenting the seam so that we can find the outside edge. That is the sort of formula we have had for a while."

It was a tactic the Kiwi bowlers used against West Indies at home, winning the Tests 2-0.

Whether Indian batsmen can respond this huge challenge will be known in the next week.


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