Stage set for curtain raiser; India, NZ geared up

World champions India will worry more about the fickle Kiwi weather than the strength of Daniel Vettori's team when they meet New Zealand in the first T20.

updated: February 25, 2009 17:31 IST
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World champions India will worry more about the fickle Kiwi weather than the composition and strength of Daniel Vettori's team when they meet New Zealand in the first Twenty20 International at the AMI Park on Wednesday.

The advent of autumn has seen the temperatures drop and there have been sporadic spells of rain, which have offset India's preparation for the match.

More than the Black Caps' resilience and home advantage, it will be this cold-windy factor which could ruffle Mahendra Singh Dhoni's all-conquering legion.

Given their streak of success in this format and the plethora of talent they have in their ranks, India start as hot favorites in the two-match Twenty20 series.

While New Zealand have two potential match-winners in Brendon McCullum and Jacob Oram, who was specifically included in the squad to provide thrust to the not-so-powerful batting, India have an array of explosive batsmen who can turn the match on its head.

India have two explosive openers in Virender Sehwag and Gautam Gambhir, who will be backed by the king of Twenty20, Yuvraj Singh, who continues to flog the bowlers across the parks as if he were batting in the backyard of his Chandigarh home.

Then there is Dhoni and Yusuf Pathan, who is imminently capable of clearing the grounds in New Zealand. Be it seam or spin, they have the knack and chutzpah to scatter the field and produce boundaries. Besides, Suresh Raina and Rohit Sharma are batsmen who are capable of winning matches on their own on their day.

If the Kiwis feel that the bounce in the wicket could give them the edge in the bowling aspect, they would have to deal with Zaheer Khan and Ishant Sharma, who are regarded as the best fast bowling pair in the world cricket. The pair had devastated Australia at home, a trauma from which Ricky Ponting is struggling to recover.

India's Twenty20 record is encouraging, in that they have lost only two of their 11 matches played so far, losing to New Zealand in the World Cup at Johannesburg and Australia at Melbourne.

But whatever be their might, India would be foolhardy to underestimate the inexperienced New Zealand outfit, which had given a good account of itself in the just-concluded series against Australia, wherein they drew the ODI series 2-2 and lost the Twenty international by one run.

Coach Andy Molls has pinned his hopes on Daniel Vettori, arguably the best left-arm spinner in world cricket, McCullum, Oram, Martin Guptill, Grant Elliot and Neil Broom. But if the weather does not play spoilsport, India certainly have the spice and curry to bury the Kiwi challenge.

India coach Gary Kirsten has already made it clear that his wards would not be unduly worried about either the track or the weather here, for they are well prepared to adapt to any situations.

"We are aware of what to expect and are planning for that. Every wicket around the world might well be different. You are not going to find two wickets that are exactly the same.

"So we are not really focusing on the wickets. But we are doing the work we need to do. We are looking to adapt to the situations that we are confronted with. The team is well-balanced and our seamers have done particularly well in the last year," Kirsten said.

"Everyone's talking a lot about the wickets, but the wickets I saw in the games against West Indies seemed to play really well. It is not something that will concern us too much," he added.

India: Mahendra Singh Dhoni (Captain), Virender Sehwag, Gautam Gambhir, Yuvraj Singh, Suresh Raina, Rohit Sharma, Yusuf Pathan, Irfan Pathan, Harbhajan Singh, Zaheer Khan, Ishant Sharma, Praveen Kumar, Ravindra Jadeja, Munaf Patel, Pragyan Ojha, Dinesh Karthik.

New Zealand: Daniel Vettori (Captain), Neil Broom, Ian Butler, Grant Elliott, Martin Guptill, Brendon McCullum, Nathan McCullum, Iain O'Brien, JacobOram, Jesse Ryder, Tim Southee, Ross Taylor, Ewen Thompson.

Hours of play (IST): 11.30 am onwards.