I firmly believe that this Indian team under Sachin is well balanced, with the middle order consisting of Rahul, Sachin, and Saurav looking very solid. On the last tour of South Africa and West Indies, Rahul and Saurav had played ten or twelve tests between them. The inexperience showed and Indian were demolished in South Africa in 1997.
Now Rahul and Saurav have established themselves in world cricket and provide the much needed support to Sachin. They both are aware of the responsibilities which should ease the pressure on Sachin and enable him to play his natural game. The emergence of these two dependable players has changed the atmosphere in the dressing room. Now, even if Sachin gets out the heads in the dressing room do not fall. On a tough tour like this one, it is players like Ramesh, Laxman, Gandhi, Kanitkar who need to play a supportive role to these three players. It is wishful thinking that all three will click in an innings. Failures are bound to occur: even if one of them performs, adequate support should come from Ramesh and Company. By batting sensibly they can help India post a respectable score.
India's worries still lie in the lower batting order. It is important to build partnerships even if one pair adds 20 runs it turns out to be worthwhile. Kumble and Srinath have the experience. Instead of looking at their personal contribution, they should keep a target in mind as a pair. Agarkar is shaping up well as an alrounder. M S K Prasad has sound technique but has failed to flower. If the lower order contributes 80-100 runs consistently, India will start looking as a dangerous side.
India's bowling in the first test was accurate and consistent but somewhat lacked potency to go through Australia's strong batting strength. Srinath looked jaded at times. The rest in between first and second match should do him good. He has to assume the role of India's main strike bowler and along with Kumble need to play an incisive role.
Getting back into three test match series after being 1-0 is not easy. The beginning has to be made. Kapil and Sachin have to instill a sense of pride in all the players and spur them on to do well. India has the potential, but the need of the hour is to deliver.
New Zealand has won the first test against West Indies, without any stars in their midst. They play as a well knit unit and Fleming handles the side admirably. Even in India despite all odds, they performed creditably. Kiwis have this uncanny knack of bouncing back.
Campbell and Adrian Griffith gave a terrific start on the first day but New Zealand managed to restrict them to a modest score through Cairns and Vettori. Rest of the test belonged to Cairns. He batted and bowled like a true alrounder and richly deserved his 10-wicket haul. He was also instrumental is New Zealand winning the series against England. On difficult tracks in India too, he coped very well in the one-day series.
New Zealand play hard and they play together. Vettori has come of age. His experience of bowling on Indian wickets should stand him in goodstead. Fleming, Astle and MacMillan form the nucleus of the batting. These three should be more consistent and should look at getting bigger scores than the usual 50s and 60s. The all rounder in the Kiwi side gives the team a distinct edge over its opponents. Even in India, Cairns, Nash and Vettori always chipped in vital runs.
Their strength lies in their trenchant fielding. They give nothing away and have bowlers who bowl a consistent line - choking the batsman. In this series, New Zealand has taken the initiative and now the ball is in the West Indies court. For them to win, Brian Lara has to come good. The whole team revolves round his batting which was proved against Australia last season. I feel he should come in one drop and take command. At number five, he gets very little support; hence at times gets out to impetuous shots. The healthy signs for West Indies are the openers. Campbell has the experience and along with Griffith should provide a solid foundation.
The more one sees of Walsh more one tends to respect this great fast bowler. As he inches closer to Kapil Dev's record, his stamina, his precision, his tenacity seems to increase many fold. He remains a potent force for West Indes and if the batsmen can get runs, West Indes still has the fire power to level the series.