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Mar 30, 2009

Gambhir the new wall: Sehwag

Gautam Gambhir's 642 minute vigil at the crease earned him the title of "second wall of Indian cricket" by stand-in captain Virender Sehwag.

Gambhir curbed his natural instincts as he buckled down and helped India salvage a draw after the hosts enforced the follow-on.

"He (Gambhir) is developing his game. He curbed his aggression and is learning with experience. He has become the second wall of Indian cricket," Sehwag said after the game.

"We didn't bat well in the first innings but we did well in the second, especially Gautam and (VVS) Laxman. Gautam batted for nearly 11 hours and saved the match," Sehwag added.

Sehwag said it was tough for his bowlers when New Zealand batted in the first innings.

"It was a difficult job for the bowlers. The track was flat and except for some bounce, there was nothing in it. I told them to bowl in right areas and see that the batsmen commit mistakes," said Sehwag.

On the other hand, New Zealand captain Daniel Vettori said he was "bit disappointed" not to have won the match after "dominating for three days." It is hard work for us.

"You don't expect you will be there for three days in a row but it showed how dominant position we were in. The bowlers bowled so well in the first innings and it gave us hope that we can do the job in the second," he said.

"We batted well in the first innings after being reduced to 22 for three and enforced a follow on against a very good side. Almost all the plans we had before the match came through," Vettori added.

Asked about the pitch, he said "The pitch got easier and easier to bat. You can play another Test match on this if you want to though you expect Test match wicket to be offering assistance to bowlers and a bit of turn to the spinners.

"Whatever conditions we get (in the third Test) the performance here will give us lots of heart," he said.

Mar 25, 2009

Daniel Vettori urges batsmen to deliver

New Zealand captain Daniel Vettori urged his team's batsmen to raise their game and bat for long periods of time to give his side a chance to level the series.

"We need to bat for long periods of time. We need batsmen to bat at least 120-odd overs against this lot (Indians) because if we don't do that we don't give our bowlers an opportunity to rest. We know we have got a quality batting line-up, but we need to improve the longevity of our innings.

"The onus is on the top six batters to do the job. If they do the job then Brendon (McCullum) and I can complement that."

Vettori attributed the success of the Indians to the fact that the visitors executed their plans superbly.

"They played to a plan and won every key moment. Every element that we weren't good in, they were really great. They seem like a team that works pretty well with momentum, and just keep rolling with it. We need to reverse that pretty quickly," said Vettori.

Vettori also said that off-spinner Jeetan Patel was almost certain to play. "We would lean towards Jeetan playing, in place of Kyle Mills. He got five wickets last time he played here, so we are hoping for a repeat of that."

However, the 30-year old skipper was unsure of Flynn's injury. "He will have a fitness test. We want to see how he fronts up. But his hand is still swollen. He is a tough little guy and wants to play. But we will make a sensible decision revolving around that."

Vettori also didn't seem too bothered with the relocated wicket. "It comes across pretty similar to a normal Napier wicket. Aesthetically, it is not quite as pretty as it normally is, and doesn't have the consistency of grass cover. But talking to Phil (grounds man), he is pretty comfortable and thinks it will be a traditional Napier track."

He added that the hosts were wary of Harbhajan Singh, who picked up his best figures overseas in the first test.

"The key to Harbhajan's success was how consistent he was in that second innings. He didn't really get it to turn a lot but put the ball in the right spot and got a couple to bounce. Most of the guys are picking him, but it is a matter of playing him from there," he said.

"I think it is the most difficult part of playing when a guy puts the ball consistently in the right spot with variations. The guys have talked about it, particularly the left-handers. I think the right-handers played him relatively well", Vettori said.

"A lot of thought has gone into how to tackle Harbhajan. I think you can still play him by turning the strike over, I always thought the key thing against spinners is the singles as it frustrate them. Being a spinner I know pretty well. So we are trying to do that more and unsettle him," he added.

When asked if the burden of captaincy was draining he responded, "Physically I am fine. Mentally, it is always the tough thing. The workload of being a captain and an all-rounder can sometimes challenge you. While enjoying a lot of responsibility, you need that little break sometimes," Vettori, whose team trails 0-1 in the three-match series, said here.

"In a lot of ways, not being a captain in the IPL side will give me that opportunity to go back and play. Once we get ready for that T20 World Cup again, it will be pretty exciting. But I am not saying I am not excited about this (captaincy) challenge as well," added Vettori.

Mar 24, 2009

New Zealand are in a Catch 22 situation

It was easier than expected. But one suspects that the two remaining Tests will not be cakewalks for India. In the ultimate analysis, New Zealand lost the Hamilton Test in the first session on the opening day when they were 60 for six. It is very hard for teams to recover from such a shocking start though, of course, India have had the tables turned on them in such situations on many occasions (Bangalore 1987, Kolkata 1999, Karachi 2006 all against Pakistan).

But for that collapse, New Zealand's batsmen acquitted themselves fairly creditably and one can safely predict higher totals in the two remaining Tests at Napier and Wellington if the surfaces are as true as Seddon Park. On the other hand if the tracks are similar, it is going to be Mission Impossible for the Kiwis to bowl out India out twice. Indeed dismissing them once is quite a feat as they did at Hamilton and the fact that the Indians scored 520 underlined the weakness of the New Zealand bowling.

The home side just doesn't have the firepower to run through arguably the most lustrous batting line-up in the game. New Zealand are in a Catch 22 situation when it comes to preparing seaming and bouncy tracks, for India have the bowlers to exploit such conditions. The fact that the Indian pace trio took 12 of the 20 wickets to fall drives home this point.

So, the Indians with a luxury of a 1-0 lead in a three-Test series are in a position to call the shots. On the evidence of the Hamilton game, India are much the superior side with Harbhajan Singh a vital cog in the bowling attack. The New Zealanders have traditionally been susceptible in negotiating top class spin and Indian bowlers from Nadkarni, Bedi, Prasanna and Chandrasekhar to Shastri, Kumble and Harbhajan have been among the wickets even as the pacemen have had their share of the scalps.

Harbhajan's bowling in the second innings was one of the best the competitive sardar has bowled and not unexpectedly it was statistically his most successful figures in Tests abroad. Credit should also be given to the seam trio for they really bowled well in conditions that were not exactly helpful. Zaheer Khan while living up to his reputation as the spearhead picked up his 200th Test wicket to become only the third Indian paceman after Kapil Dev and Javagal Srinath to reach this landmark. Ishant Sharma did his growing reputation no harm, while Munaf Patel who got the nod as third seamer ahead of Lakshmipathi Balaji exceeded expectations with Dhoni shrewdly using him in short spells.

What can one say about the strongest aspect of Indian cricket – the batting – except that it lived up to its exalted status. The scores put up by the seven batsmen – ranging from 22 to 160 – places their dominance in proper perspective. With this line-up running up totals of 450 and 500 should be a matter of routine. There is just no respite for the beleaguered bowlers as one class act follows another. The fact that the top four in the batting order average over fifty while a fifth averages nearly 45 underlines the tough task facing New Zealand's bowlers.

As for Tendulkar, one can only marvel at the manner he continues to motivate himself after almost 20 years in international cricket. He is still hungry for success, wants to climb more peaks and is still almost boyishly enthusiastic about the game. If anything his superbly crafted 160 at Hamilton confirmed this. It was his third century in four Tests and some of the strokes were those of a much younger man not one who turns 36 in a month's time. As for Dhoni he continues to be Indian cricket's man with the Midas touch. He is still to taste defeat as captain even as this was the fifth victory with him at the helm.

Mar 12, 2009

Kallis to captain South Africa in third test

Jacques KallisJOHANNESBURG (Reuters) - South Africa all-rounder Jacques Kallis will captain the side in the third test against Australia next week.

Kallis replaces Ashwell Prince, the official vice-captain, who was recalled to the team after captain Graeme Smith broke his finger in the second test in Durban.

Smith suffered the injury while batting in the first innings of a match South Africa lost by 175 runs to go 2-0 down in the series with one test left.

Cricket South Africa (CSA) said Kallis was was taking over " allow Prince to concentrate on his new position of opening batsman."

Prince has represented his country in 47 tests but never as an opener.

CSA also said it would consider hosting the Champions Trophy in September once it receives an official invitation from the International Cricket Council's (ICC) Executive Board.

The ICC's Chief Executive's Committee recommended to its board that South Africa be invited to host the tournament instead of Sri Lanka for weather reasons.

Mar 10, 2009

England in desperate bid to share series with WIndies

It's a long-shot on a pitch that is flat and is still playing reasonably well, but England are going to make a desperate bid on Tuesday's final day to win the fifth and final Test against West Indies at Queen's Park Oval.

England trail in the five-Test series 0-1, following an innings and 23-run defeat in the opening Test at Sabina Park in Jamaica, and need a victory to share the series and retain the Wisden Trophy, symbol of Test supremacy between the two sides.

At the close on Monday, England were 80 for three in their second innings and leading by 82 runs with seven second innings wickets standing.

Off-spin bowler Graeme Swann, England's bowling hero in the series, believes that the visitors have no other choice if they are to end the Test series in the Caribbean positively.

"I think we have to go in believing we can win," he said.

"We have to be as positive as possible [on Tuesday], and hopefully get a score on the board that we can then, probably not defend, but create a few doubts for the West Indies batsman, and have 40 or 50 overs, and see what happens.

"You never know, we got blitzed out in Jamaica on a pitch that was probably better than this one [in Trinidad], and we'll be hoping for a bit of magic effort from somebody.

"I think we've toiled hard in this series and haven't had a great deal to show for it and probably feel we are due a magic session here or there, so hopefully it's [on Tuesday].

Swann admitted that it has been difficult - sometimes downright frustrating - for England over the last three Tests, having posted big totals and not have things go their way and clinch a victory.

"It's always hard keeping going when its 40 degrees Celsius and you see the Digicel girls dancing in the stands, and you'd rather be in there with them," said Swann, referring to a group of cheerleaders working for the series sponsors.

"It is hard work and we don't have a great deal to show for it, so we will be hoping [on Tuesday] that those frustrations can pass and we can win a Test."

Swann said England are banking on West Indies batting in their typically cavalier style in the second innings, and the visitors would seek to "dangle the carrot" in front of them.

"Probably, if we can get a decent score on the board with Gayle at the top of the order, if he bats, he's certainly going to come out play his shots," the off-spinner said.

"I think the West Indian way is to be more positive than negative, so I'm not sure how many of their batsmen will be able to look at a fairly small total and just be happy to defend and play for a draw."

West Indies need only a draw to secure a series victory over England for the first time in 11 years, and their first series victory over a side above them in the World rankings for six years.