After a practice session at Napier, the venue of the first ODI against New Zealand, skipper MS Dhoni had seen enough of the wicket to realise it may not be the expected green track that will be on offer for the visitors. It is not all good news though, for the captain. While the news would be heartening for the Indian batsmen, things aren’t so straight forward for the side’s struggling fast bowlers.
“The wicket looks good. It is a dry and hard pitch, well suited for ODI cricket. Fast bowlers will be able to get that extra bounce. Intelligent bowlers will be able to use wind to their advantage. Normally the ball swings for 10-15 overs, but here the swing might be prolonged a bit,” the Indian skipper said.
“Our strength in bowling is not pace, but how smartly we can use the conditions. The bowlers will have something from the pitch for sure, but once the batsmen settle down, they will love the pace and bounce on offer,” added Dhoni.
Most of it was just a straightforward reading of the situation, but he was spot on when he said India’s strength is not in the pace department.
Dhoni will be looking to have a settled line up pacers before the World Cup in these parts in 2015, but so far, it hasn’t gone to plan.
At the receiving end
In the ODI series against Australia at home, the visitors scored more than 300 in five of seven ODIs and 298 in another. The only ODI in which Australia hadn’t scored a 300 was washed out without a ball being bowled. That might have been in the subcontinent, but the situation didn’t improve much when the side toured South Africa. The home side again benefitted from the lack of a penetrating pace attack, scoring 358, 280 and 301 in the three ODIs.
By the end of the series of shellackings, a few front line pacers have drifted out of the picture, while a few new contenders have moved in. Bhuvneshwar Kumar, who had a good beginning to his ODI career, played just one ODI against South Africa and has perhaps lost some of the ground he had so rapidly gained early on. Still, he is among the mix in New Zealand, unlike Mohit Sharma and Umesh Yadav, who have been dropped for the current tour.
In their place, have moved in Varun Aaron — just recovered from the stress injury in his back and with only four ODIs under his belt, nowhere near a reliable presence — and the uncapped Ishwar Pandey.
Ishant Sharma and Shami Ahmed seem the only two pacers who seem to be certainities currently.
In 2013, Ishant Sharma picked up 29 wickets from 18 games at an average of 27.89, an improvement on his career average of 30.89. The numbers seem especially good if you consider that three of those ODIs came in the high scoring home series against Australia. Similarly, Shami who has a similar overall career average as Ishant Sharma, finished 2013 in good form, picking up 21 wickets in his final nine games at an average of 22.71.
Shami was in fact one of the standout performers of that Australian series.
So with the spot of the third seemer and another back up seamer up for grabs, it will be a virtual audition for the likes of Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Aaron and Pandey. The wind and the ground conditions in New Zealand present an especial challenge even for seasoned campaigners. For the Indian pace attack, which seems low on experience (they currently have 120 ODIs among the five of them, 42 less than that of New Zealand’s Kyle Mills), bowling ‘smartly’ and ‘intelligently’ will be quite a challenge.
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