Partab Ramchand

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Team India seeks ruthless streak

New Zealand haven't had a great record in this country and a look at the composition of the visiting side – as also the fact that India are the No 1 Test team and No 2 ODI team in the rankings – makes me stick my neck out and predict a one-sided outcome in both contests.  The tourists are to play three Tests and three one-day games and on both past record and present form it is difficult to see them stretch a confident Indian side. I would love to be proved wrong for there is nothing as insipid as a lop-sided result.

 

The Kiwis have won just two Tests in India while losing ten out of 26 matches spread over eight visits dating back to 1955. Admittedly, they were rather unfortunate not to win the three-match series in 1969 due to a combination of circumstances, but undaunted they hopped over to Pakistan and promptly won their maiden Test series. This record alone should be more than just a comforting factor for the Indians, while the fact that they won their first series in New Zealand in 41 years early last year should boost their confidence levels further.

 

There are further factors in the Indians' favour. In their own backyard they have always been formidable opponents. They have just made a clean sweep of the two-match series against Australia and have lost only one Test series at home in the last ten years. Besides, there is nothing much to commend about the New Zealand squad which could arguably be the weakest from that country to visit India.

 

Only a handful of names in the 15-member team inspire any confidence that they would do well in the face of a much stronger Indian side. In their captain Daniel Vettori they have one of the leading players in the game today - a genuine all rounder and a born leader.  Also cricketers like Martin Guptill, Chris Martin, Brendon McCullum, Jesse Ryder and Ross Taylor admittedly have a proven record but does all this constitute enough ammunition to take on the Indians? One would think not.

 

There are too many average players and they are not likely to trouble the Indian batsmen and bowlers too much. 

 

But then, New Zealand have never really been a great side – even when the peerless Richard Hadlee was around – and if they have now and then managed to hold their own against better opposition it is because of their teamwork and doughtiness. As captain Stephen Fleming instilled some self belief in the side during his long reign at the top and this quality was seen during the last trip here in 2003 when both Tests were drawn - New Zealand's best performance in this country since 1969.

 

In fact, one recalls how in the second Test at Mohali they notched up 630 for six declared, enforced the follow on and India could save the game only because a typically classic Laxman double (104 not out and 67 not out). It is conceivable, however, to argue that that team was stronger than the one Vettori leads now.

 

The tourists also cannot be in a really confident frame of mind after losing 4-0 to Bangladesh in the recent ODI series. This has to be one of the biggest upsets in bilateral limited overs contests. Even granting the fact that Bangladesh are a handy one-day side, to go down to a side placed a couple of places below them in the ICC rankings – and by such a lop sided margin - has to be one of the most embarrassing moments in New Zealand's cricket history though back home the authorities have dismissed it as little more than a hiccup. That's just putting on a brave front on behalf of a side that was outplayed in all departments of the game. If they were a trifle complacent it just showed poor planning and judgment and under the circumstances they got their just desserts.

 

Given this background a match-up between the No 1 Test side and the No 8 Test side – to be followed by a contest between the No 2 ODI team and the No 7 ODI team – is not one that will whet the appetite of cricket followers in this country and there will be those who are already largely overlooking this and looking ahead to the Test series involving the two top teams in South Africa in December. All the same, it is good to know that a full strength Indian side will take on the Kiwis squashing reports that some leading players would be rested. A ruthless streak after all is the hallmark of a No 1 team.

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