Stakes rise to 50:50
The Indian team arrived about 24 hours before the first ball of the first ODI is to be bowled. Even when they are due at this picturesque city for the second Test, they’ll come in at the last moment, choosing instead to head from Hamilton to Auckland for a couple of days’ practice.
Clearly, they’re trying to spend as little time in Napier, and a quick look at their record here tells you why.
India have won here only once in five ODI attempts, and that too by margin of two wickets. That’s surprising, given that the conditions have been decidedly Indian. The pitch at McLean Park has been a belter for some time now, with scores of 280-300 being chased down. The short square boundaries, the warm, humid conditions and the quick outfield should remind the team of home.
Given how quickly weather patterns have changed, the Indians will not take early decisions on composition. Early indications are that the team will not risk playing Ishant Sharma (right shoulder injury) without him being fully fit. This leaves Munaf Patel and Praveen Kumar fighting for Ishant’s place.
From the team that played the last T20 match, Ravindra Jadeja has gone home, and Sachin Tendulkar will amply fill his tiny shoes. Already much talk has surrounded Tendulkar’s return even before he scores a run, his impact will be felt both within the Indian dressing room and in opposition ranks.
The team then needs to decide which two of Rohit Sharma, Irfan Pathan and Yusuf Pathan will play, depending on which department they would like to strengthen.
NZ on the right track
New Zealand, meanwhile, have a settled line-up, with the T20 matches only reinforcing the belief they have in their recent advances. The Chappell-Hadlee series across the Tasman showed them in good light, with their batsmen firing consistently. Daniel Vettori has proved to be an able leader and this team is responding strongly to him.
Kyle Mills, who was the best quick bowler on either side against Australia, returns from an injury leaving Tim Southee and Ian Butler competing for one place.
Jacob Oram is not yet fit but Vettori indicated that the big all-rounder could be expected to bowl a few overs sooner rather than later.
In the end, it could well boil down just who takes on the part-time bowlers and makes it count. Forget all the talk about gaining a psychological advantage from the T20 wins. Battle lines are redrawn afresh.