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India hopes to break title jinx

If all goes India's way today, it could be their second title only in a multi-team series since Mar 1999.

india Updated: Sep 06, 2005 15:06 IST

The proverbial gap between the cup and the lip is something that Sourav Ganguly can write a book on, and Tuesday's tri-series final against New Zealand will determine, to a large extent, whether the last chapter of it will be tragic or not.

The most successful Indian captain in Tests and a strong contender in the race for the best from the country to have occupied the hot seat, this is one chapter that Ganguly would wish to read differently. Apart from his run of low scores, the team has invariably lost the plot in the final on most occasions, both before and after the NatWest triumph in 2002.

It is easily forgotten that India played successive ICC knockout finals (2000 and 2002) and the 2003 World Cup final under him. Nobody talks about the fact that, known the world over as 'chokers' while batting second, India has successfully chased several 300plus totals with Ganguly at the helm.

That is all history. Reality now pits his team against a balanced New Zealand side, which has held an edge over the Indians in recent times, in both forms of the game -- starting from the series in New Zealand in 2002-03 -- and a fit-again Shane Bond is threatening to ram into a batting order with distinct frailties at the top.

It has to be a concern for India that, with one of the world's most successful ODI batsman and a most dreaded hitter around, they are yet to get a good start after nine matches in 200506. Virender Sehwag is still to score a fifty, and Ganguly has done nothing of note after his brief but promising outing in Sri Lanka.

Even Rahul Dravid seems to be out of sorts, having uncharacteristically let the ball hit his stumps in all four matches in Zimbabwe. Mohammed Kaif, Yuvraj Singh and MS Dhoni have so far bailed the team out of trouble, which must please coach Greg Chappell. But when it comes to big games, expectations surround the big names, especially in a team that has more than a few of these.

For the Kiwis, the best thing is that they don't have these big names. Of the relatively better known, Chris Cairns is out with a hamstring injury. In spite of all his languid elegance, Stephen Fleming never quite counts among the elite; neither is the prolific Nathan Astle talked about much, and probably here lies New Zealand's real strength.

Under Fleming, they are playing a brand of no-nonsense cricket devoid of frills and not depending on individuals, though there are weak links in the bowling department, which was exposed in their second league game against India.

New Zealand bat deep with wicketkeeper Brendon McCullum and Jacob Oram capable of scoring quick runs in the late overs, but their attack can be quite ordinary if Bond and Daniel Vettori don't strike.

More encouraging for the Indians is the form of their fast bowlers. Ajit Agarkar has shown he can match Irfan Pathan and Ashish Nehra in the pace department, if not better them, and this is again an area where the captain's contribution can't be overlooked.

Ganguly has repeatedly insisted, ever since he became captain, that to win abroad, India need fast bowlers and that seems to have finally paid dividends.

At the moment, what matters is the team's performance under him in one-day tournaments. After Tuesday, India's next chance to win one will come in the Asia Cup next year, and given his recent scores, Ganguly may rue it if the team has to wait that long. Likely teams India: Sourav Ganguly (captain), Virender Sehwag, Mohammed Kaif, Rahul Dravid, Yuvraj Singh, Mahendra Singh Dhoni, Jai Prakash Yadav, Irfan Pathan, Ajit Agarkar, Harbhajan Singh, Ashish Nehra. New Zealand: Stephen Fleming (captain), Lou Vincent, Nathan Astle, Hamish Marshall, Craig McMillan, Scott Styris, Brendon McCullum, Jacob Oram, Daniel Vettori, Shane Bond, Kyle Mills.

First Published: Sep 05, 2005 15:12 IST