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India eager to keep Kiwis on the mat

India need to fire on all cylinders to bolster their chances of reaching the final by prevailing upon a winless New Zealand in a day night encounter of the tri-series on Thursday.

india Updated: Nov 05, 2003 12:56 IST

Comprehensively outplayed by world champions Australia in Mumbai, India need to fire on all cylinders to bolster their chances of reaching the final by prevailing upon a winless New Zealand in a day night encounter of the triangular cricket series here on Thursday.

With Australia having already assured themselves of a place in the title round by gleaning 18 points from four matches, the Kiwis and the hosts are now in the race for making it to the majestic Eden Gardens - venue for the grand final on November 18 - though the home side look superior on current form.

India, culling eight points from three outings are in the second spot, while the Black Caps have only four points in their kitty from three games.

However, India's build up for the first-ever day-night encounter at the Barabati Stadium hit a speedbreaker when leggie Anil Kumble opted out following the demise of his father, prompting the selectors to rope in Sairaj Bahutule as the replacement in the 14-member squad.

Indian coach John Wright has indicated that left- arm-slow bowler Murali Karthik stood a bright chance of making it to the playing eleven as the spin partner of off-spinner Harbhajan Singh.

"Kartik did a good job against the West Indies, and he has always done well given a chance," Wright said.

On the positive side, the inclusion of seamer Ashish Nehra, sidelined for eight months since spraining his ankle at the World Cup in South Africa earlier this year, has increased the pace options for the Indian team management.

Nehra, who played a vital role in taking India to the World Cup final by claiming 15 wickets with his magical ability to extract lateral movement both ways, seems impatient to return to on-field action. He has been bowling his heart out in the nets to impress the team think-tank.

Fast bowling spearhead Zaheer Khan succeeded in the Gwalior tie against the Aussies before being clobbered all around the park in Mumbai; Ajit Agarkar's graph nosedived at Gwalior before he sparkled in Mumbai. Thus the pace line up on the morrow might be interesting to watch.

With one-day cricket being regarded as a batsman's game, the performances of the top willowers of the two battling sides present a study in contrast.

The Indians hold a distinct advantage in the section, with their top order, save Virender Sehwag, firing well in the tournament so far.

Doing justice to his awesome reputation, little master Sachin Tendulkar has led the Indian charge plundering 216 runs including a 100 at Gwalior. A highly impressive average of 108 has raised the expectations of his teamamates and fans, who would all expect him to script another memorable knock at the Barabati stadium, that has seen a favourable Indian record of six wins in nine one-dayers.

The stylish V V S Laxman has a hundred against his name, stand-in skipper Rahul Dravid got a half century in Mumbai, while Yuvraj Singh played a useful cameo in Gwalior.

Sehwag's dismal show (31, 0, 0) has stood out like a sore thumb for the Indians, and the attacking player needs to return among runs to silence his growing number of critics.

On the other hand, the tale of the Kiwi top order has been one of abject failure. The first five batsmen Chris Nevin, skipper Stephen Fleming, Lou Vincent, Scott Styris and Brian Mcmillan have collectively totalled a miserly 74 in the two matches that the tourists lost against the Aussies. The New Zealanders' opening match against India was a no-result and they never got the chance to bat.

Fleming, who also failed in the Test series, scored a gritty 40 in Monday's match against Australia, his only respectable knock in the tour.

However, Fleming has resorted to blaming the wickets for the his side's poor performance, saying that the tournament organisers had prepared the tracks to suit India's interest.

"There are two competitions going on - one for us and Australia where it seams around and is tough to bat and India play another one where it gets lower and slower then turns," he said, oblivious of the fact that his country had hosted India on under-prepared tracks, drawing all-round criticism.

The New Zealanders also need to improve on their fielding and catching, as they dropped catches at crucial junctures in Pune to practically gift the game to the mighty Aussies.

But India can also take heart from history, as they carved out a five wicket win in the only one dayer played between the two sides in Barabati in 1988-89.

The teams (from):

India: Rahul Dravid (captain), Sachin Tendulkar, Virender Sehwag, VVS Laxman, Yuvraj Singh, Mohammad Kaif, Ajit Agarkar, Parthiv Patel, Sairaj Bahutule, Harbhajan Singh, Zaheer Khan, Ashish Nehra, Hemang Badani, Murali Kartik.

New Zealand: Stephen Fleming (captain), Lou Vincent, Craig McMillan, Chris Cairns, Chris Harris, Jacob Oram, Scott Styris, Brendon McCullum, Kyle Mills, Chris Nevin, Daryl Tuffey, Daniel Vettori, Ian Butler and Paul Hitchcock.

Umpires: A V Jayaprakash (India) and N Mallender (England).

Third umpire: I Shivaram.

Fourth umpire: M S Mahal.

First Published: Nov 05, 2003 12:51 IST