Kiwis look for revival against India in Cuttack

Forget the permutations and combinations - all teams barring Australia sweat over to seal a final berth in a three-cornered contest.

india Updated: Nov 05, 2003 23:42 IST

Forget the permutations and combinations - all teams barring Australia sweat over to seal a final berth in a three-cornered contest.

Both India and New Zealand go into Thursday's tie knowing defeat could ultimately mean death in the TVS Cup. More so Stephen Fleming - already disadvantaged by the absence of Chris Cairns - than Rahul Dravid, but the India captain too underscored the importance of this day-night match at the Barabati Stadium.

"We understand the value of this one and what it can do to the points table," he said on Wednesday afternoon.

So, on another wicket likely to play low and slow as the evening progresses, the Blues and the Blacks will be locked in what should be a grim battle for survival. Cairns, coach Ashley Ross said late this evening, was "very close to playing but we will continue to assess his injury".

Paul Hitchcock too has been kept out but Ross said the playing XI will be decided on Thursday.

Dravid's thoughts on the toss notwithstanding - "I don't think it'll make much of a difference. The wicket looks like it'll last 50 overs" (he probably meant the whole match) - no one among the sellout crowd would bet on batting second after calling correctly.

For a captain who, by his own admission, doesn't like to “give too much away”, it wasn't expected that Dravid would disclose the playing XI and on that count he didn't disappoint.

The Indians wound up nets even before Sairaj Bahutule and the New Zealanders reached Orissa but the skipper wouldn't elaborate beyond “all 14 are available for selection”.

That means officially, Bahutule, Murali Kartik and Ashish Nehra can all fill in for Anil Kumble. But a 'slow' wicket with a fair amount of moisture underneath owing to recent rain - Wednesday though was sunny as sunny can be - could mean a tweaker replacing another one.

Viewed in the context of Dravid's statement that he definitely sees a role for Kartik “who has been in and around with the team for long”, the Railways bowler is the front-runner given that Bahutule hasn't yet got a chance to turn his arm.

However, no one's played on this track since it was re-laid, so predicting its behaviour is risky business. As Orissa coach Balwinder Singh Sandhu put it: "Reading a wicket is like meeting a woman. The more you meet, the better you get to know her."

For once and that too at home, India have been hit by a slight bout of batting blues. Virender Sehwag isn't on a roll though everyone from John Wright to his skipper felt that it is only a matter of time before Najafgarh Nawab starts firing.

Mohammed Kaif didn't serve a Saturday sizzler in Mumbai either and lasted only one ball in Gwalior.

The rest of the lower and middle-order - barring Ajit Agarkar's pyrotechnics in Gwalior - doesn't quite compare with that of either Australia or New Zealand.

Pune saw Brendan McCullum and Jacob Oram notch up a total that was almost beyond Australia and though Dravid attributed the Mumbai flop show to “rather difficult batting conditions” he accepted that the middle and lower-order batting is an area of concern."Yes, New Zealand do bat deep but that can be countered by our batsmen upfront," he said.

Having assembled on Monday for this tie, India have a two-day head start over their opponents who flew in late after a three-hour flight via Raipur this afternoon.

They missed nets in Mumbai on Tuesday and trained late in the evening because their kits didn't arrive on time. Though Ross played it down, such scheduling doesn't really help a team looking for its first win of the competition.

Chris Harris - wicket-less so far in this meet - however, could be looking forward to the match. The veteran of 170 one-dayers is three short of 200 international wickets.

First Published: Nov 05, 2003 23:42 IST