If the entire population of Napier was somehow herded into Kolkata’s Eden Gardens,the stadium would still be half empty.....

Written by Sandeep Dwivedi | Napier | Published: March 3, 2009 1:55:55 am

If the entire population of Napier was somehow herded into Kolkata’s Eden Gardens,the stadium would still be half empty. This is a one-street town where gazing at the star-studded sky is the only entertainment post sundown. Fearing boredom,the Indians have planned their itinerary in such a manner that they end up spending the least possible time here.

But the sight of a brown batting-friendly pitch getting baked under the bright sun at McLean Park would’ve made the visitors homesick and excited in equal measure. For the first time on this tour,the heavy woollens didn’t travel to the training nets. The wind and chill of February seemed a thing of the past and so did the ‘T20 shivers’ as the conditions on the eve of the first ODI were an ideal start to the month of March.

Not only Kiwi skipper Daniel Vettori,even the kids cycling around the green lawns next to the stadium expect a 300-plus game on Tuesday. After the forgettable last week,India will relish a round of arm-wrestling on a belter,and Napier provides that opportunity to the bulging biceps in the dressing room.

For most of the last year,the Indians played in batting friendly conditions and are currently No 3 in the world. They have managed several inaccessible scores batting first and chased down winning totals. In conditions where the bowlers are reduced to mere props,they can flaunt a batting line-up full of swaggering match-winners on Tuesday.

One noticeable trend in such big-scoring games is that bowling bloopers don’t always get noticed. With skipper MS Dhoni saying that he would be cautious to play even a slightly unfit Ishant Sharma,it looks certain that the young paceman will miss the opening game. In his absence,Zaheer Khan and Harbhajan Singh will be the key bowlers but Dhoni could rely heavily on his makeshift options in a team where every player,other than Gautam Gambhir and Dhoni,is capable of rolling his arm over.

What makes the contest more interesting is that the New Zealand squad is also full of all-rounders. No 1 bowler and skipper Vettori can change the game with his batting,wicket-keeper Brendon McCullum is an opener,his batting partner Jesse Ryder is a trusted medium pacer,and then there is the certified all-rounder Jacob Oram,who didn’t bowl during the T20 matches only because of a just-healed injury.

“I am particularly pleased with the batting line-up and the way they have played,” Vettori said on Monday. “The maturity that our top four batsmen have shown in their relatively new career is exciting. If I look back at all the games that I have played,I realise that this happens to be the most exciting top-four I’ve played with. We have match winners and guys who can adapt to the situation.”

If Indian skipper MS Dhoni would have been asked the same question,his answer would have been on similar lines. With big-hitting batsmen and a friendly track for Tuesday’s day-night match,star gazing — though of a slightly different nature — will still be the only evening entertainment in Napier on Tuesday.

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