Top order batting is the main concern for India

Written by: Shane Bond
Published: Monday, September 5, 2005, 14:56 [IST]
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Before I harp upon India's poor record in the finals, let me state they we have a similar image of not doing well in crunch games in foreign conditions. So in that sense, we are not dissimilar. One of us would have done some corrective by the time light is dying out at the Harare Sports Club on Tuesday evening.

It was nice from our point of view that Zimbabwe could keep India's top order out of business once again. It would have been still better if Zimbabwe had won and sowed doubts in Indians' minds.

Virender Sehwag, Sourav Ganguly and Rahul Dravid are on ration in terms of runs in this series. Dravid has been bowled in all the four innings and we hope he has similar returns for one more knock. From the New Zealand point of view, we regard him the best Indian batsman and hold him in very high esteem. Once he strikes roots at the crease, the rest of the batsmen tend to feed off him.

We rate both Sehwag and Ganguly similar to the extent that they are dangerous on the offside and giving them width is asking for trouble. We would prefer to take them out of the equation while the pitch still has some bounce for once it gets slower and lower, they are tough work. We try to limit these two batsmen with deliveries, which could climb up to the midriff and limits their footwork.

The thing about the Indian top order is that if they stay for any length, they can make us pay dearly. As it is, the batting line-ups are getting deeper in the age of Super Subs.

In our line-up, you see a Kyle Mills coming at number 11 and he has a first class hundred. For India, Irfan Pathan comes in at number 10. It is no longer the age when you can limit teams to 150-160 runs.

With India's middle-order beginning to make an audible noise, it is important that we go through the top order quickly. Once it is done, the lower half would not be able to bat with customary freedom and we can tie up the two ends with Scott Styris and Daniel Vettori. Otherwise, the likes of Yuvraj Singh and Mahendra Singh Dhoni would take some stopping.

Dhoni obviously is a powerful hitter. His cut-and-thrust methods work up a great mix with the finesse which India's top batsmen are able to conjure up. Yuvraj Singh is in good nick but looking up the figures, I find he does not seem to have done much against us in the past.

We would like to keep it that way and test him with lifting deliveries on the off-stump. Again, to expose him early while the ball is still new would only be possible if we go through the top order.

We have noticed that older balls are easier to negotiate it at this ground. Once the wicket gets slower, the early spongy bounce tends to die out and becomes predictable for the batsmen. With the ball rising slowly, batsmen are able to whack balls with cross-batted shots. The length in batting has seen the teams pushing that much harder and now 260-plus seems only a par score.

So we could only hope that we would get a similar pitch to what we had in the Test match here last month. It had swing and bounce, the two ingredients which are needed for a good game of cricket. Nobody wants sideways movement because it loads the things overtly in the bowlers' favour. But swing-friendly conditions can make it a fair contest between bat and ball.

Regardless of the pitch, the basic plans of any bowling side does not change much. It is to bowl fairly and regularly on and around the off-stump long enough to cause discomfort to the batsmen.

We would surely like to leave with a high but have to be at our absolute best to stop the Indians. The early advantage of the first game is long gone: India since then has made a reputation with their bowling and fielding and the lower half is holding up firm. The top order is their main concern and it is an area where we would like to stomp our feet and test if the ground is still soft underneath.

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