India cricket officials shut down any questions about a fixing scandal ahead of the series deciding second Test against New Zealand with skipper Mahendra Singh Dhoni a no show for the traditional captain’s pre-match media conference on Thursday.
A committee set up by India’s apex court on Sunday found Gurunath Meiyappan, son-in-law of the country’s cricket board chief and an official of the Chennai franchise of the Indian Premier League (IPL), guilty of illegal betting during last season’s Twenty20 competition.
The scandal surfaced last year when former Test bowler Shanthakumaran Sreesanth and two other local cricketers were arrested on suspicion of taking money to concede a fixed number of runs.
With India 1-0 down and facing their first series loss to New Zealand since 2002, Dhoni, who plays for the IPL’s Chennai team, was expected to attend the news conference by the local and travelling Indian press contingent.
He was instead replaced by opening batsman Shikhar Dhawan for the team’s only media conference ahead of the match at Wellington’s Basin Reserve.
A team official also refused to allow any questioning on matters other than the Test and when one reporter tried to ask how the team had prepared for the match with reports of the IPL scandal swirling in India, he refused to allow Dhawan to answer and shut down the conference shortly afterwards.
New Zealand won the first Test in Auckland by 40 runs last Sunday though Dhawan said his side had drawn confidence from their bowlers’ third innings performance and better batting in the fourth innings of the match.
Pacemen Mohammed Shami, Ishant Sharma and Zaheer Khan ripped through New Zealand’s second innings, dismissing the hosts for 105 before India’s batsmen, led by Dhawan’s second Test century, had pushed them to the brink of a remarkable victory.
“The last Test match, we fought back really nicely and that second innings we batted really nicely,” Dhawan said.
“There are lots of positives to take from the last Test match, so it is helping build our confidence.
“We have got very good fast bowlers. Hopefully they can repeat that (performance) and get them out for a low score.
“We are confident and looking forward to the match.”
New Zealand enter the match riding high, having won their previous three Tests, which started with an innings and 73-run rout of West Indies on a green Basin Reserve wicket last December.
“It looks bit greener than what we had against West Indies,” New Zealand captain Brendon McCullum said of the current wicket being prepared for the match.
“It looks a bit harder as well. Hopefully with a bit of pace and bounce and some sideways (movement) too.
“Although what worked for us best against West Indies was the ability to swing it in the air.
“Hopefully we will be able to generate that swing and that will be key for us.”
New Zealand enter the match with two debutants in batsman Tom Latham and all-rounder Jimmy Neesham having started the last three test matches with an unchanged lineup.
Latham has replaced Ross Taylor, who has been released due to the impending birth of his second child, while Neesham has replaced leg spinner Ish Sodhi because of the pitch conditions.
Neesham is more known for his batting than his bowling but with three front-line pace bowlers in Tim Southee, Trent Boult and Neil Wagner, McCullum has the option of two medium-fast bowlers in Corey Anderson and Neesham and he said he wanted to attack no matter what the match situation.
McCullum has already said he would bowl if he won the toss, something he has been unable to do in six successive games against Dhoni, and the New Zealand captain jokingly believes he may call incorrectly again on Friday.
“Yeah it is likely to go against me,” a laughing McCullum said. “We would obviously look at bowling if we win the toss.
“We will play to our strengths and with a bit of luck we can generate some pace and bounce on this wicket.”
Despite McCullum’s bad luck at the toss, New Zealand have managed to recover from horrendous starts in their first batting innings, battling back to post scores of 441, 349 and 503 in their last three matches.
“We have found ourselves in some precarious situations quite a bit this summer batting first and we have managed to come through it,” McCullum said.
“With Neesham at eight we have quite a bit of batting.”