Friday, February 25, 2011


Following the sad news of the earthquake that rocked Christchurch a couple of days back, the Black Caps will be keen to put one across their Trans - Tasman neighbours and three-time defending champions Australia. A win here may not heal the wounded back home in New Zealand, but it will certainly bring a smile back to their faces. Even if it is a momentary spark of joy for the people affected, for the Kiwi cricketers, I am sure it is worth fighting for!

If more incentive was needed, and these incentives would apply to Australian side too, then there is a Cricket World Cup going on... and a win here will help the team be in a very comfortable position in the race to qualify for the Quarter Finals. Add to it, the Chappell-Hadlee Trophy shall also be decided in this match, since these two teams are not scheduled to compete in another ODI match for the remaining year (unless of course they are to meet again in the Semi Finals or the Finals).

(For the record, this will be the first time that the Chappell-Hadlee Trophy will be contested on a neutral territory.)

The match tomorrow will be played at the Vidarbha Cricket Association Stadium (Jamtha), Nagpur. The previous match here, contested between England and the Netherlands, was a close fought one and saw almost 600 runs being scored. The centurion and Man of the Match in that game, Ryan ten Doeschate of the Netherlands, said that the pace of the wicket was a little slow, but batting was a lot easier once he got used to it. Early consolidation is the key on this wicket while batting.

Considering that New Zealand have already played a warm up match on this ground, it should be slightly easier for them to adjust to the conditions. Having said that, one would be foolish to write the Australians off. They come into the game having a 30-game unbeaten run in World Cup cricket and a comfortable win over the Zimbabweans. While New Zealand's win over Kenya was a lot more thumping, the downside is that it has left their batsmen short of batting practice coming into a match where they will face a pace - charged attack.

Nagpur has seen a bit of unseasonal wet weather of late. There are some chances of the match being rain-affected and played under a cloud cover. If this is so, the pace bowlers on both the sides might get a bit of help. Since it is a day game and will have an early morning 9:30 am start, the side bowling first can expect more help than the other side.

Though the teams might want to stick to their winning combinations, I wonder if Australia might consider using Doug Bollinger in their line up, if the conditions are indeed helpful for the seamers. Johnson and Tait were good against Zimbabwe, but it cannot be denied that both of them are all-or-nothing bowlers. Since both of them had a good outing against Zimbabwe, the law of averages would suggest that one (or even both) of them are due one of their erratic days any time now. Using Bollinger for one of them might not be a bad option. Ponting has also suggested that he will need to use Tait with care so that he lasts through the tournament.

Apart from this, Lee bowled with great control and skill in his practice games as well as against Zimbabwe, and Jason Krejza has shown aggression by flighting the ball and inviting front-foot drives from the batsmen.

For New Zealand, Bennett and Southee had a wonderful first game, while Oram also chipped in with 3 wickets (denying Southee a chance to go for a hat-trick). The interesting bit was that Nathan McCullum's off spin was employed with the new ball. It would be interesting to see if Vettori continues with this tactic. And talking of Vettori in ODIs, he is a master craftsman, and I am sure the Australian batsmen will look to see him off and attack the other bowlers in the game.

The Australian batting looks a lot more settled with Watson, Ponting and Clarke all having a good hit against Zimbabwe. While Guptill has been good for the Kiwis, the others are slightly untested and the likes of Ross Taylor and Jesse Ryder might need to step up big time to see of the Aussies. The Batting Powerplay strategies shall be interesting to watch, since Australia is the team that once again looks stronger in the power-hitting department with the likes of Cameron White, David Hussey and Steve Smith. For all their skills, Franklin, Styris and Vettori at the corresponding batting positions of 5, 6 and 7 just do not inspire as much confidence.

Here are a few numbers that indicate that Australia are the favourites going into this match... but with the emotions that Christchurch will generate and an additional spice in the form of Chappell-Hadlee Trophy also involved, numbers will count for little when the 22 men take the field for their national anthems tomorrow.

It will be hard for Nagpur to provide another entertaining match after the England - Netherlands affair. However, the Chappell-Hadlee Trophy has a history of producing high-scoring encounters, with New Zealand having successfully chased down scores in excess of 330 thrice in the past. Since this one will be played on another batting beauty, I expect no less.

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