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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.

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